Debbie Street has heard it so many times that she barely even needs to think about what she’ll do when she hears screeching tires and a crash: She goes out to her garage, gets her ax and goes out to help another person out of the ditch, hoping that she’s not walking up on a tragedy.
She says that’s life at the bottom of the hill on Rose Crossing north of Kalispell, a once-lightly used back road that is becoming a safety valve for the frequently congested West Reserve Drive.
Rose Crossing is a generally straight road connecting U.S. Highway 93 near the Kalispell North Town Center and U.S. Highway 2 in Evergreen. However, near the Whitefish River, the road takes a sudden 90-degree turn down a hill. Historically, the road only went between U.S. Highway 2 and Whitefish State Road, but with the development in north Kalispell it was connected all the way across in 2017, resulting in a sudden spike in traffic, Street said. Ever since then, Street has been helping fish more and more people out of the ditch.
“I am always the first one on the scene. I’m the one who picks up people out of their upside-down car, and that’s why I’m so concerned about this,” she said, adding that the most recent crash she responded to was within the last month. “I’m scared that one of these days I’m going to find someone dead.”
Others have also raised concerns in letters to the editor.
In 2018, Street brought her concerns to the Kalispell City Council, since it was the city that opened up the west end of Rose Crossing after that land was annexed into Kalispell. However, city officials have noted that the curves on Rose Crossing that are the root cause of the road’s issues are in the county’s jurisdiction, not the city’s.
Last week, Street and an engineering consultant she hired, Mike Fraser, brought their concerns to the Flathead County Commission. As part of their presentation on Feb. 18, Street and Fraser noted the significant increase in traffic on the road. In 2012, Street and Fraser said an average of 905 vehicles used the road every day. In 2018, it had increased to 1,847 daily vehicle trips, and in 2019 it was up to 2,663 vehicle trips each day, a 44% increase in just 12 months.
Street said she wants the county to conduct a full traffic impact study to create a plan to help ease the problems in the future. She said she got an estimate of what it would cost and found that it would be just $8,500.
“They need to come up with a long-term plan done by actual traffic engineers, not Debbie Street,” she said.
Flathead County Public Works Director David Prunty said the county is aware of the issues on Rose Crossing and has tried to improve the situation by adding concrete barriers and a motion-activated warning light that informs drivers of the turn ahead. But Prunty said there are limitations to how much the county can do.
“The county has to live within the right-of-way we have, and we’re doing the best we can to deal with the traffic issues there,” he said.
Street said the concrete barrier only slows people down when they’re careening over the embankment.
Prunty said while the opening of the west side of Rose Crossing has contributed to traffic on the road, the real culprit is West Reserve Drive, which is heavily congested in the morning and evening. People looking to avoid West Reserve often head north for Rose Crossing. Prunty said if West Reserve was widened and had turn lanes added, especially around Whitefish Stage Road, the issues on surrounding roads might be resolved.
Montana Department of Transportation District Administrator Bob Vosen said West Reserve has been identified as an area the state would like to address but that there is currently no funding earmarked for it.
“It’s high on my list of projects to get done,” Vosen said. “We recognize the needs we have there.”