Crews to Begin West Reserve Drive Construction in Kalispell this Summer

The Montana Department of Transportation is working on a slate of new projects this year as crews work to update infrastructure to meet the Flathead Valley’s growth

By Maggie Dresser
West Reserve Drive in Kalispell on March 16, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As summer approaches in the Flathead Valley and crews begin road construction on the region’s highways and byways, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is gearing up for another busy season, including the five-lane improvement project for West Reserve Drive in Kalispell.

MDT engineer John Schmidt said they hope to begin construction this July and work through October, but the timeline will depend on design completion. In the first phase, crews will start work on portions of Whitefish Stage Road and the west side of West Reserve Drive.

The anticipated project comes after the city of Kalispell in 2022 was awarded a $25 million Rural Surface Transportation Grant.

“Funding is always a challenge,” Schmidt said. “There are always more needs than there is money – but we’re doing a pretty good job of moving things around and meeting needs as best we can.”

As part of a collaboration with federal and local agencies, officials completed a corridor planning study in 2021 on West Reserve Drive, which concluded that the Flathead Valley saw a 12% population increase since 2010, resulting in a strain on the existing infrastructure.

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 U.S. Highway 93, Whitefish Stage Road and U.S. Highway 2 are particularly concerning and are failing, according to the study.

Traffic on West Reserve Drive in Kalispell on April 30, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

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.

Schmidt said crews will also continue doing pavement preservation work north of Whitefish on Big Mountain Road in a partnership with Knife River. Last year, crews dug out and repaved the top layer of two sections of Big Mountain Road on both sides of the intersection with Ptarmigan Road. Construction crews will start working again in June to complete overlay work.

In Evergreen, a sidewalk installation project is underway, which will entail a half-mile of new sidewalk adjacent to U.S. Highway 2 starting on Evergreen Drive and extending north to Terry Road and includes various segments on both the east and west sides of the highway.

Officials with MDT remind motorists to drive cautiously in work zones as the construction season continues through the fall.

“Construction is hard, even under the best conditions, and we just ask people to try and pay attention and be courteous when they enter work zones,” Schmidt said. “We really want people to come home safe.”

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