New Designation for West Reserve Drive Opens up Reconstruction Funding

MDT commission changed busy Kalispell route from “urban” to “primary;” chamber of commerce president calls it a "huge win"

By Myers Reece
Traffic on West Reserve Drive in Kalispell on April 30, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) commission has re-designated Kalispell’s West Reserve Drive from an “urban” to “primary” route, which opens up access to a substantially larger pot of money for future reconstruction of the busy thoroughfare.

The MDT Transportation Commission made the re-designation at its April 28 meeting. Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Unterreiner praised the new classification, noting that the Kalispell Bypass and West Reserve Drive have been the chamber’s two highest-priority road infrastructure needs.

“It’s a huge win for Kalispell and Flathead County and commercial drivers and residents and visitors who are all wanting to access that road,” Unterreiner said.

While MDT Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen said the re-designation is an important step toward reconstructing the overburdened road, he noted the flipside is that the pool of project competition is greater.

“There’s a tremendous amount of needs in western Montana,” Vosen said. “This (re-designation) is the first of many steps, but we’re making headway now. We recognize that it’s a critical part of the transportation network in Kalispell and the Flathead.”

The Missoula District covers a huge swath of western Montana, from the Canadian border to the Idaho border in the west and south over to the Continental Divide in the east. Within that sprawling district, there are numerous existing primary road needs, including work in Northwest Montana on Highways 83, 35 and 200. Projects already in the queue exceed $100 million, which leaves any work on West Reserve at least several years out.

Vosen said the segment of West Reserve between U.S. Highways 93 and 2 is among the busiest two-lane roads in western Montana, and among the roads that generate the most public comments.

The Kalispell Bypass similarly receives a lot of comments. Vosen said the project to replace the Foys Lake Road roundabout intersection on the bypass with an overpass interchange is in the process of advertising for the design-build process, with work potentially beginning later this year.

Unterreiner notes that usage demand on West Reserve is only increasing with development in north Kalispell. He said in addition to the larger pot of money that comes with the primary designation, he hopes the classification will move the road up the priority list for potential federal funding through the BUILD grant program or a fourth phase of the CARES Act that is expected to include infrastructure spending.

As the bypass inches closer to full build-out with four southern lanes and the forthcoming Foys Lake overpass interchange, Unterreiner said the chamber’s roadway focus will increasingly be West Reserve.

“It will be our top-priority project in the valley,” he said. “It’s something we’ll be trying to advance in every form we can.”

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