The Montana Department of Transportation took over about 10 acres at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on April 9 to construct a replica of a proposed roundabout on U.S. Highway 2 west of Kalispell to let local truckers take a spin and provide feedback on the design.
MDT is hoping to replace the U.S. 2, Springcreek Road and Dern Road intersection with a roundabout in 2021.
The intersection west of Kalispell has been the site of 50 crashes in the last decade, including at least one fatal wreck. Bob Vosen, district construction engineer for MDT’s Missoula district, said the intersection is one of the area’s most concerning from a safety standpoint. For the last few years, MDT has looked at a number of options to make the intersection safer, including adding a stoplight, but engineers ultimately determined that a roundabout was the best solution.
However, MDT has gotten some pushback from local residents and truckers who claim roundabouts are hard to navigate. The event at the fairgrounds was set up to alleviate some of those fears.
Using wooden stakes and spray paint, MDT engineers set up a replica of the roundabout in the grass. Although a few truckers almost got stuck in the mud because of some unfortunate wet weather that coincided with the event, most of them said they were OK with the design.
“From a tucker perspective, roundabouts can be a pain in the butt to go through, but if they’re designed right, they’re not that bad,” said Aaron Allen, a cross-country trucker who lives in Somers. “I didn’t find any problems with this one.”
Allen said his biggest problem with roundabouts is the inner curb. Although the curb is meant for truckers to drive over, Allen said if they’re too abrupt — similar to the ones on the U.S. Highway 93 bypass — they could damage truck tires. He said each of his tires can cost anywhere from $300 to $700. The proposed roundabout west of Kalispell will have a sloped curb that should be easier for trucks to navigate.
Justin Davis, a truck driver from Eureka, drives through the Springcreek and Dern intersection multiple times a day when moving logs from Libby to Evergreen. He said he was initially against building a roundabout at the intersection, but after a few loops at the fairgrounds he was fine with it.
“It was alright, there was a lot of room,” he said.
Vosen said MDT engineers would consider the truckers’ feedback in their final design. He said they hope to wrap up the design work in the coming months and then start acquiring the needed land for the roundabout. Current plans call for the roundabout to be located 120 feet north of the current intersection, meaning traffic will be minimally impacted during construction.
The entire project is expected to cost about $3.9 million, paid for by federal funds thanks to the state’s Highway Safety Improvement Program.
If everything goes according to plan, construction will start in the spring of 2021 and the roundabout will be open for traffic by the end of that year.
Vosen said he was pleased with the turnout at the April 9 event and was confident that it would alleviate concerns in the community.
“If we can show that a semi-truck can make it through this, anybody should be able to drive it,” he said.