Like I Was Saying

Road Raging in the Great Outdoors

The area is changing fast and the roads are busier than ever

By Kellyn Brown

Where are all these people coming from? It’s a question I ask myself on my increasingly busy commute to work. Why are they all so bad at driving? It’s a question I ask myself as I watch people weave in and out of traffic, drive slow in the fast lane and regularly communicate with their middle fingers. 

For the first query, it’s helpful to read a recent report from Montana State University Extension that aims to give a “more complete picture” of who is coming here and why. 

The “Montana Movers Study 2021 Report” found that the top reason people are migrating to our state is “to have better access to the outdoors, to live in a less congested place, to take advantage of a slower pace of life, and to live in a smaller community.” Interestingly, “the availability of housing” was one of the lowest-ranked factors across all aspects of the survey. Just 32% said they moved here to “find lower cost housing.”

Good thing, because that no longer exists. It may also explain why most of the newcomers, according to the report, are arriving from the following states: California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Idaho. All five have relatively expensive real estate markets, which would provide their resident homeowners an advantage when purchasing here. 

Instead, according to 66% of respondents, one of the most important factors in their decision to move to Montana is the “desirable natural environment” and “better access to the outdoors.” Basically, people are relocating here, regardless of price, for the same reason most of us already live here. They want a little less congestion, which brings me to roads. 

It’s no secret that there is more traffic and driving across the valley is, at times, becoming an exercise in patience. West Reserve is always clogged. What once was open space between Kalispell and Whitefish along U.S. 93 is now neighborhoods. Cars on the thoroughfare are either traveling too fast or too slow. At least, that’s what those tailgating, cutting off other drivers and making various hand gestures think. 

I remember a time, not long ago, when strangers driving by each other on lonely backroads would wave at each other. Now many of those who say they live here for that “slower pace of life” are in a big hurry to get wherever they’re going and they’re mad at anyone who might slow them down. This trend has infected roads across the country. 

According to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety, 2021 was the worst year on record for deadly road rage incidents in the United States. Experts point to stress from the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the main causes. In Texas, especially, people are angry behind the wheel. In Austin last year, police recorded 160 episodes of drivers pointing or firing a gun. 

Of course, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country with major traffic problems. The Flathead’s population is tiny by comparison and hasn’t yet been plagued with drivers wielding weapons. But there are days when it feels like we’re not far off. The area is changing fast and the roads are busier than ever. But perhaps the next time you feel the urge to exchange unpleasantries on your commute, remember why you live here.

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