Kalispell city officials are submitting a $25 million federal grant to fund a five-lane Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) improvement project for West Reserve Drive, which has seen significant traffic congestion in recent years.
City councilors authorized the grant submission at the April 4 council meeting for the federal RAISE grant and city planners will submit the grant application on April 14.
MDT officials collaborated with federal and local agencies and completed a corridor planning study on West Reserve Drive, which stretches from U.S. Highway 93 to U.S. Highway 2. The study was completed in October 2021.
The study outlined several improvement options for the corridor, including widening West Reserve Drive and Whitefish Stage Road. The study also proposes adding lanes at several intersections including at U.S. Highway 93, Whitefish Stage Road and U.S. Highway 2 and adding a pedestrian crossing near Drake Drive.
If awarded, the RAISE Grant would fund $25 million out of the full estimated $33 million cost of the project. MDT would fund the remainder.
“The road has picked up quite a bit of congestion with the bypass … it was upgraded from an urban route to a primary system, putting it under a different funding pot,” said Kalispell Development Services Director Jarod Nygren at the city council meeting.
“(This project) is a high priority,” Nygren added. “(We) get a lot of calls and complaints about it so hopefully we can work with MDT and have a successful grant application.”
According to the study, the Flathead Valley has seen a 12% population increase since 2010, resulting in a strain on the existing infrastructure, including West Reserve Drive. Planned developments will also impact future traffic, including projects that will add commercial and residential lots.
Traffic congestion along the busy stretch of road is the main concern for officials, which is near capacity with an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 vehicles traveling on the west end and 13,000 to 15,000 vehicles on the east end per day. The intersections of Highway 93, Whitefish Stage Road and Highway 2 are particularly concerning and are failing, according to officials.
Projections for 2040 conclude that there will be 30,000 to 32,000 vehicles on the west end and 22,000 to 25,000 vehicles on the east end as growth continues.
In the last 20 years, traffic has grown at a rate of 2.4% per year on the corridor and all seven study intersections are expected to fail during the peak evening hours by 2040, according to the study.
According to traffic crash data, vehicle crashes on West Reserve Drive have doubled in the last decade, with 50 crashes in 2010 and 100 crashes in 2020. Developments in the Hutton Ranch Road area and the completion of the Kalispell Bypass likely contributed to more traffic and the uptick in crashes, with 38% of crashes occurring during peak traffic congestion from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Fifty-eight percent of crashes were rear-end collisions.
The grant awards will be announced in August 2022.
To learn more about the project, visit www.mdt.mt.gov.
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