The Flathead County Commission voted last week to request changing West Reserve’s designation from “state urban system” to “state primary system,” a shift that will allow the county and the state to more directly deal with the massive amount of traffic between U.S. Highways 93 and 2.
“Reserve has needed some work done on it for quite a while,” said Commissioner Pam Holmquist. “[The Montana Department of Transportation] has different pots of money and we need to get into the best pot we can to get some money, and the way we do that is re-designate the road.”
While West Reserve is a two-lane road — designated a minor arterial in 2006 — it currently carries the wear, tear and wait of up to 17,000 to 20,000 average daily trips. With projected 2 percent growth in traffic each year, West Reserve will likely see 25,000 to 29,700 average daily trips in 20 years.
“The numbers are just really staggering,” said Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Unterreiner. “That area north of Reserve and between 93 and Whitefish Stage is the site of the next big commercial phase of development and residential.”
Unterreiner said future development in that area will likely include a new elementary school on Whitefish Stage in about five years given the population growth, which will add to the traffic. Unterreiner told the commission that West Reserve is “the section of highway I get the most calls about at the chamber.”
There’s also the bridge over the Stillwater River to consider, which sits about a quarter mile from the U.S. 93 intersection. According to MDOT, it is demonstrating the early signs of bridge deck deterioration.
Thirteen years ago, the 2006 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan recommended that West Reserve from the U.S. 93 intersection to the intersection with Whitefish Stage should be a five-lane arterial, and then from there to U.S. Highway 2 should be three lanes.
All told, with the first phase of construction on West Reserve, the bridge construction, widening to a five-lane road, and constructing a new intersection at Whitefish Stage, estimated costs for the project hover around $18 million to $20 million.
Currently, Kalispell brings in $720,000 a year in urban funds and has a balance of just under $2 million. The county’s resolution estimated that it would take 28 years to address the first mile of the 3.5-mile road if the status quo remains.
A new classification for the road will mean potential access to different funds for such a project, Holmquist said.
Once the local governments request the new route designation, MDT staff reviews the request and there are several more steps including Montana Transportation Commission approval.