MDT Gathering Data to Rebuild U.S. Highway 2 at Bad Rock Canyon

Officials hope to offer plans to rebuild the narrow stretch of highway this fall

By Justin Franz
A crew drills holes from a barge into the bed of the Flathead River in Bad Rock Canyon near Hungry Horse on May 6, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Montana Department of Transportation is gathering physical data in Bad Rock Canyon east of Columbia Falls in an effort to rebuild a dangerous stretch of U.S. Highway 2.

Recently, MDT launched a barge in the Flathead River in Bad Rock Canyon to drill holes into the river bottom to gather data about how far down the bedrock is. The agency is also doing additional drilling in the road to gather information about the earth there. Bob Vosen, MDT’s Missoula district engineer, said the state has long wanted to rebuild the narrow stretch of highway. The section through Bad Rock Canyon is the only portion of U.S. Highway 2 between Kalispell and West Glacier that has not been expanded to four lanes.

Vosen said that section is particularly important because it is a primary gateway for people traveling between the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park.

However, it’s also a tough spot to expand a highway, Vosen said. On one side is a fast-moving river and on the other is a steep rock wall (with a Bonneville Power Administration power line high above it and a gas line far below it).

“This is a super challenging stretch of highway,” Vosen said.

In December 2018, MDT finished a new $13 million bridge over the South Fork of the Flathead River in Hungry Horse, just east of Bad Rock Canyon. Vosen said that bridge has made the highway through the area much safer and rebuilding it from the bridge to Columbia Heights is the final component. He said MDT has hired a design firm to come up with a plan. Options include building the road out over the river or blasting the side of the mountain and moving it inward. While another suggestion included tunneling through Columbia Mountain, Vosen said that would be cost prohibitive.

If everything goes according to plan, Vosen said MDT and the design firm would be able to present solutions sometime this fall at a public meeting.

This summer, MDT will begin work on extending the Gateway to Glacier pedestrian trail from the Flathead River bridge in Columbia Falls to the Montana Highway 206 intersection, where it will connect with a pre-existing sidewalk. Vosen said a pedestrian path would be part of the rebuilt highway through Bad Rock Canyon, enabling people to bike or walk from the Flathead Valley all the way to Glacier Park.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.