Guest column: Highway rebuild should start with Post Creek
| February 24, 2022 12:15 AM
We applaud the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) for finally addressing the rebuilding of US 93 from 4 miles north of St. Ignatius through Ronan. This project has been divided into three sections — the 3.3 Post Creek segment, the 4.2 Ninepipe segment and the Ronan Urban segment, which connects with the already completed four-lane section north of town and is designed to reduce the horrific traffic problem in the area.
The Ninepipe section, due to wetlands, ponds, wildlife and right of way acquisition, and the Ronan section, because of right of way acquisition, design and urban sprawl, are very complicated and will be very expensive projects. These sections are scheduled to begin possibly this fall.
The Post Creek section (Dublin Gulch/ Red Horn Road to Olson/Gunlock Road 3.3 miles) is scheduled for construction sometime in the future, and we believe it should be constructed first, as it causes most of the traffic congestion in the Ronan area and is the most unsafe and dangerous section of the highway.
The construction delay is caused by the more than 70-year-old Post Creek bridge, which is probably in poor condition and has a weight limit restriction placed on it by the MDT. It is also responsible for at least two human traffic fatalities, two grizzly bear deaths and several deer fatalities. The reason the Post Creek section has been delayed is that after 30 years the MDT has been unable to design a new bridge over Post Creek. They are now considering a 200-foot bridge over a 30-foot stream.
Just south of the bridge and near the beginning of the project is Tribal Wetlands, which borders the highway on the west. This is a major wildlife corridor and home to many animals, including the grizzly bear. We border the wetlands on the south and have lived on the highway for 45 years. There have been two separate human fatalities and more than 30 deer killed on the highway within 50 yards of our driveway. There should be several wildlife crossings constructed in this area.
We propose that the MDT construct the Post Creek Hill section first by delaying the bridge portion until a design is reached and building a passing lane on Post Creek Hill starting just north of the bridge. This section is the beginning of Ronan's traffic problems. A slow truck or camper climbing the hill creates a string of vehicles (caravan) that is almost impossible to pass given the short passing zones in the 4.2-mile portion to Ronan. It is further delayed by the two traffic lights in town. We have experienced a caravan 3 miles long after the Fourth of July weekend, which was also very bad traffic wise, that began on Post Creek hill. This 2-mile section could begin just north of the bridge at the East and West Post Creek intersection and continue to the top of the hill at Olson and Gunlock Roads intersection. It would provide for turn lanes at three major nearly blind intersections with the highway that have at least six human traffic fatalities.
The Post Creek hill is by far the most inexpensive portion of the entire project and should have been completed when the Ravalli and Evaro passing lanes were constructed. We think this alternative would be the least expensive for the following reasons:
- The right of way purchases would be minimal as the hill is mostly bordered by large sections of farmland, so there would be very few appraisals and landowners to deal with.
- There are no apparent wetlands.
- Few wildlife crossings or fencing will be needed as this area is not a major wildlife crossing.
- Very minimal power line relocation is needed, although there appears to be a fiber-optic line on the east side of the highway.
- There appears to be no significant cultural areas involved.
We would gladly give a tour of the Post Creek Hill area to any reporters, politicians, MDT personnel, tribal officials or any other interested parties, as we have lived on this highway for 45 years and understand the problems associated with this project. We believe that the traffic congestion in Ronan will continue until the Post Creek passing lane is completed. There should be a sign placed at the bottom of the Post Creek Hill stating, “Slow Caravan Forming Ahead” until the passing lane is completed.