Transportation officials are working to improve the Batavia Lane and U.S. Highway 2 intersection just west of Kalispell after it was identified as a safety concern following several car accidents, including a fatality, in recent years.
The Montana Department of Transportation is collaborating with Robert Peccia and Associates (RPA), a transportation consulting group, to brainstorm the safest alternative to reconstruct the current intersection while providing access to Smith Valley School, which lies to the southwest, and Kelly Rae’s Gas Station and Convenience Store to the northwest.
“Our number one goal is to focus on safety,” RPA Project Manager Scott Randall said.
Officials have produced four preliminary concepts that could replace the current intersection with a road realignment to add a slight bend as it approaches U.S. Highway 2 along with traffic control tools including stop signs, pedestrian crossings, traffic signals, medians and a single-lane roundabout.
A stop sign with raised medians to the east and west of the intersection while moving the crosswalk from the east side to the west side, closer the Smith Valley School, would improve visibility and safety while reducing vehicle conflicts and would help slow vehicles. However, this method would not reduce the delay on Batavia Lane and medians could restrict turning movements. This would be the least expensive option.
Transportation officials are also brainstorming two separate traffic signal concepts. Both would include two crosswalks, one on Batavia Lane and the other on the west side of the intersection near Smith Valley School. One concept includes medians on both Batavia Lane and U.S. Highway 2, which would help slow vehicles, while the other concept does not include medians.
“We’re hoping to control some speed and slow people down through here and get better ability for people on Batavia Lane to use the intersection,” Randall said.
A traffic signal would improve pedestrian safety while reducing vehicle delay during peak hours. However, it would further delay vehicle traffic during off-peak hours.
A single-lane roundabout is also being considered, which would be the safest by reducing vehicle delay, forcing slower speeds, reducing conflicts and crash severity and improving pedestrian safety. However, the “shared use” path would have to be relocated and it would be the most expensive option.
“It’s a proven safety measure to slow people down,” Randall said.
U.S. Highway 2 sees an estimated 10,000 vehicles between Kalispell and Dern Road, which is four miles east of Batavia Lane, compared to 8,000 vehicles in 2010.
The Federal Highway Administration finalized a Road Safety Audit in 2014 and identified the intersection as a “location in need of safety and operational improvements.” In 2016, an MDT traffic study evaluated traffic signal and roundabout options, and determined a roundabout would “best address the safety issues outlined in the 2014 audit.”
While the project is in its beginning stages and is unfunded at this point, officials estimate intersection reconstruction will start in roughly five years.
“Right now, it’s putting the funding puzzle together, which is challenging,” MDT Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen said.
While the project will take several years to complete, MDT officials remind drivers to slow down to mitigate vehicle collisions. The speed limit drops from 60 mph to 45 mph through the intersection and is in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
An appointment-based open house will take place on Sept. 15 and 16 at the Hampton Inn in Kalispell from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend to learn more about the project.