Chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus, downtown associations and economic development groups from across Northwest Montana recently sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao voicing their support for a federal grant that would fund the full build-out of the U.S. Highway 93 bypass in Kalispell.
Meanwhile, the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce is hosting an open house to gather public comment and provide information about the grant and project, which seeks to expand the southern half of the bypass and remove the roundabouts.
The open house is held on Tuesday, July 10 at the chamber’s downtown location at Depot Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The chamber is hosting the forum along with the city of Kalispell, Flathead County and Montana Department of Transportation.
“Removing the roundabouts and widening the surface area to four-lanes, completing the full bypass project is a high priority of ours, and falls in line with our strategic initiative of accelerating infrastructure momentum,” the chamber said.
The Kalispell chamber was one of 15 organizations that signed the letter to Chao on June 27. The letter outlined the bypass project’s candidacy for receiving $12-15 million in U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant funding, arguing that a streamlined and widened bypass without roundabouts would have far-reaching benefits for residents in every community in the area, industry and visitors.
“The full-build completion of the Kalispell Bypass will have significant and positive transportation system impacts for all of Northwest Montana,” the letter stated. “The improvement of this facility will have major safety and quality of life improvements for commercial traffic, residents and visitors alike.”
The letter pointed to the region’s rapid growth in both population and tourism, noting that Kalispell was the third fastest-growing “micropolitan” area in the U.S. in 2016-2017.
“As a result of this growth and the 45% growth in tourism in the last three-years, the Bypass is already at its 20-year traffic count projections just three years after opening,” the letter stated.
“Most importantly,” it continued, “a four lane alternate bypass route for U.S. 93 around the west side of Flathead County was considered and approved in a 1994 Final Environmental Impact Study as part of the regional improvements to the highway.”
The letter, as well as insight gleaned from the public, will assist in applying for the BUILD grant. The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce says the project would widen the road to the “end of the sound-walls that are currently in place, and include the removal of current roundabouts, widen the surface to four lanes, and improve access via full interchanges, overpasses, and access ramps.”
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