MDT Braces for Busy Construction Season

The Montana Department of Transportation will begin the West Reserve Drive road widening project in July as other long-awaited projects like the Old Reserve Drive and Whitefish Stage Road projects move through design phases

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

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) on Thursday hosted an open house to inform public about upcoming road construction projects, including information about the highly anticipated West Reserve Drive project set to begin this summer.

Crews will start construction on the five-lane improvement project in July, starting on the west end of the corridor with plans to start work on the Stillwater Bridge this fall.

MDT engineer Matt Straub said crews will build the north half of the new bridge this winter and in 2025 motorists will be able to drive over the new section of the structure.

Straub said the corridor will be a construction zone all summer, but all traffic lanes will remain open during the daytime hours with occasional lane closures at night between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“We’re looking forward to improving this corridor in the Flathead Valley and reducing future traffic delays,” Straub said.

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.

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 were expected to fail during the peak evening hours by 2040, according to the study. An intersection is considered failing when it no longer functions safely.

According to traffic accident 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.

North of West Reserve Drive, MDT will also reconstruct nine miles of Whitefish Stage Road to Montana Highway 40. A northbound left-turn lane will be installed at the Rose Crossing intersection, shoulders will be added on each side and crews will flatten hills to improve sight distance.

The project is currently in the design phase and a construction timeline has not been finalized.

Also in the design phase, MDT is working to reconstruct Old Reserve Drive at the Farm to Market Road intersection near West Valley Elementary School and just west of the Stillwater Road intersection near Glacier High School.

Planned improvements include reconstructing and realigning three miles of Old Reserve Drive, building eight-foot shoulders and flattening slopes, which could start in 2025.

Brandon Coates, the public involvement manager for the project, says the project is long overdue and said the road has not been updated in several decades.

“Everybody we’ve talked to from the postal service to schools to property owners – everyone says it’s much needed,” Coates said.

Crews are also working to add American Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements at the U.S. Highway 93 and the Treeline and Wyoming Street intersections in Kalispell.

Upgrades include removing median islands on Treeline Road and realigning the lanes to create dedicated eastbound and westbound left-turn lanes and adding a southbound right-turn lanes.

Starting in June, pavement preservation construction on Big Mountain Road north of Whitefish will continue with working resuming between Smith Drive and Glades Drive. 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 continue through the fall.

For more information, visit www.mdt.mt.gov.

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