Page 8 - Flathead Beacon // 11.2.16
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Behold the Bypass
After decades of planning and work, Kalispell’s full- edged alternate highway opens with community ceremony
OLLOWING A PROCESSION OF local, state and federal dignitar- ies, the  rst vehicles streamed
onto the black pavement of the onramp at Reserve Loop Drive on Friday after- noon, accessing the new section of the U.S. 93 Alternate Route and arriving at a community milestone several decades in the making.
The Kalispell bypass — the single larg- est highway transportation project in Montana history and a community aspi- ration dating back 70 years — is  nally whole and open.
Four lanes of new highway, accompa- nied by a pathway for cyclists and pedes- trians, now  ow past burgeoning neigh- borhoods along the bustling north end of Kalispell and connect with the existing two-lane south half at U.S. Highway 2.
Nearly 150 people gathered Oct. 28 on one of the  ve new bridges along the highway route to celebrate the opening of the historic infrastructure project. In the midst of the wettest October in Kalispell’s history, even the skies parted momentarily and sunlight brightened the shine of new pavement.
“This has been a long time coming,” Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson said. “I’m excited to see what it does for Kalispell and the future of the Flathead Valley.”
The future impact of the full- edged bypass remains to be seen. Will it relieve tra c congestion on Main Street? Will it help or hinder downtown businesses?
Questions linger, but this much is undeniable: the bypass paved the way for much more than highway lanes and overpasses.
It bolstered the local economy. Nearly $140 million was invested in the bypass in the last decade and millions more in new development have surfaced around the massive transportation project, which has largely reshaped the city’s transpor- tation grid and opened the door for possi- ble improvements on Main Street.
“The long-term bene ts for the econ- omy are already beginning to show, from the new housing developments on the south end to numerous retail develop- ments here on the north end,” Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday.
“The completion of the bypass also gives the Kalispell downtown area a big opportunity to continue its revitalization e orts as the heartbeat of this vibrant community.”
Gov. Steve Bullock drives through tape to signify the opening of the U.S. 93 Alternate Route on Oct. 28.
MDT DIRECTOR MIKE TOOLEY applauded the e orts of Mitch- ell and other MDT sta  who stuck with it and built solid relationships with city leaders and community members to cre- ate a project that would bene t all.
“The community should be rightfully proud,” Tooley, who helped make the bypass a state priority in recent years, said.
Tooley said there are not any immedi- ate plans to expand the south portion to four lanes with two overpasses.
“It will happen someday, but down the road,” he said.
MDT o cials said the initial speed limit along the route will be 55 mph and future tra c studies could lead to increases.
Ed Toavs, a Columbia Falls native and the regional administrator for MDT, played a pivotal role in pushing the bypass toward completion, particularly by bundling the  nal north half in one bid, the single largest contract in state history, which reduced the remaining estimated cost by $9 million.
“It’s real satisfying to be involved in a project of this magnitude,” Toavs said. “It’s a neat thing from the perspective of moving a community forward.”
Former mayors, such as Tammi Fisher, Pam Carbonari and Doug Rau- the, and county leaders such as adminis- trator Mike Pence, helped keep the proj- ect moving forward with support and initiative.
“This has been going on ever since I was a boy,” Rauthe said, recalling talks of a truck bypass for Kalispell dating back to the 1940s and 50s. “It went on for so long, I thought it probably won’t get built in my lifetime.”
Building the bypass even built fami- lies. Fisher, who was an outspoken propo- nent of the project when she was mayor, met her future husband, Don Brummel, the project manager for LHC, while tour- ing the site years ago.
“I joked with friends, ‘I’ll do anything to get this bypass built,” she said Friday, laughing and smiling with Brummel after taking a family photo on the empty road.
The signi cance of building the bypass stretches beyond 7.6 miles of pavement.
As Sen. Daines said in a letter read at the ceremony, “This is so much more than a road. This is historic.”
It created jobs. Most recently, LHC, a Kalispell-based contractor, was awarded the $34 million bid to develop the  nal 4.5-mile north half. The local company employed more than 160 workers and hired 16 locally-based subcontractors to complete the project ahead of schedule.
“We should all be excited about it,” Je  Claridge, a fourth-generation Kalispell native who owns LHC, said.
“It’s not very often that you get a proj- ect that comes along that has an immedi- ate impact like this one.”
of government, working to achieve some- thing the community desperately wanted for generations. Former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus acquired initial federal transpor- tation funding to get the project o  the ground and in the ensuing years fellow Montana Sens. Conrad Burns, Jon Tes- ter, Steve Daines and Reps. Denny Reh- berg and Ryan Zinke played roles in gain- ing further  nancial support.
“When I grew up (in White sh), Kalis- pell was the heart of the valley. Down- town Kalispell has gone through some periods where it needs some help. This bypass allows the next step. It allows Kalispell to retake its place,” Zinke said.
“This is what happens when both sides come together.”
Tester, who helped Kalispell also land a $10 million federal transporta- tion grant a year ago to revitalize down- town and build an industrial rail park, described the projects as transformative for the community.
“Between that Glacier Rail Yard proj- ect and this Kalispell bypass, these kinds of investments are going to change Kalis- pell for the better for generations to come and make your economic future very, very bright in regards to good paying jobs and quality of life,” Tester said.
Building the bypass represented the tireless e orts of local community plan- ners, such as Kalispell Planning Director Tom Jentz and Kathy Harris at KLJ, who both crafted the intricate details of the route, and state transportation o cials who dedicated large portions of their careers to shepherding the largest proj- ect in state history.
“It brings tears to my eyes. It’s been my whole life for several years,” said Jim Mitchell, the Montana Department of Transportation’s engineering project manager for the bypass over the last 10 years.
After 40 years with MDT, Mitchell is retiring with the completion of the bypass, an occasion he celebrated Fri- day with his children and grandchildren.
and Republicans together at all levels

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