Reporter's Notebook

Bypass Buildout

Work is set to begin in March to streamline the Foys Lake section of the busy thoroughfare

By Myers Reece

Editor’s Note: This column was written before design renderings were released depicting plans for a ramp-accessed overpass interchange that allows free-flowing traffic on the bypass but also includes two teardrop-shaped roundabouts on Foys Lake Road. This online version of the column has been changed slightly to account for the newly revealed design plans.

Each morning during the workweek, depending on the day and exact time I head to work, long lines of traffic backed up in four directions await me at the Foys Lake Road intersection with the Kalispell bypass. 

In the middle of this automotive hydra, in fact causing the multi-pronged traffic jam, is one of the valley’s favorite coffeehouse conversation starters: a big roundabout.

I can’t say I’m going to miss it, at least in its current form.

The Montana Department of Transportation is holding two virtual public open houses on Feb. 25 to discuss the forthcoming project to replace the Foys Lake roundabout with a ramp-accessed overpass interchange that will allow unimpeded traffic flow on the bypass while increasing a nearly 2-mile stretch of the busy thoroughfare from two to four lanes.

That work, which starts March 1, will bring a good portion of the southern bypass up to speed with the northern section, which already has four lanes and overpass interchanges. When the project is finished, only the southernmost tip of the bypass and one last roundabout will need to be overhauled, the final step to creating a thoroughfare that will provide non-stop highway travel around Kalispell.

The Zoom public open houses on Feb. 25 — at 10-11:30 a.m. and 5:30-7 p.m. — will give the public an opportunity to hear plans and traffic control details from the project team. In a press release, the state transportation department called the forums “the best opportunity for the public to learn about the project, refresh their memories on the design plan, review traffic control plans and provide feedback.”

The transportation department is correct when it calls the Foys Lake interchange area a “heavily driven thoroughfare.” To be exact, an estimated 23,000 vehicles use the roundabout daily, with 15,000 heading north or south and 8,000 heading east or west.

Inevitably, numerous people will wonder aloud, in venues such as social media or likely the virtual public houses, why transportation officials didn’t build the bypass with four lanes and overpasses throughout its entirety from the beginning. 

But it bears repeating that officials had access to specifically designated available funding, and the project had to be shovel ready, meaning they had to construct what they could and complete the full buildout as additional funds arose in the coming years.

Just as inevitably, a lot of residents will also bring up the need to improve West Reserve Drive between U.S. Highways 93 and 2, one of the busiest two-lane roadways in Montana. But, again, authorities must work within the funding framework given to them. 

The Foys interchange is primarily funded through a $12.75 million federal grant designated for that project, much as the bulk of the broader bypass work came through federal earmarks and Obama-era stimulus dollars, along with national highway funding allotted to the transportation department.

Reserve Drive must battle other proposed projects across the region to secure funding through the state transportation department, but it received a major boost last year when a state commission re-designated Reserve from an “urban” to a “primary” route, opening up access to a substantially larger pot of money for future reconstruction

All of which is to say, these projects take a long time, marked by intermittent lulls and bursts of funding-catalyzed activity. It’s one step at a time. Let’s celebrate each time we take a step, including a big one with the Foys Lake interchange.

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