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Polson residents weigh in on 93 bypass proposal

Reporter | November 23, 2023 12:00 AM

The Polson City Commissioners held a workshop meeting last Thursday on a proposed bypass that would connect the Ridgewater Development to Hillcrest and 7th Avenue W. 

It was standing room only as 26 Hillcrest Lane residents and other Polson citizens filled the commission chambers to ask questions and voice concerns about the project. 

Traffic counts show 4,500 cars daily leaving the Ridgewater and Cougar Ridge developments. When the number of automobiles reaches 7,500, developer Mike Maddy is obligated to create a secondary access. 

Kirk Spalding, senior project director for the engineering firm DJ & A, said the growth in that area is 7 to 10 percent so it won’t be long until that access is needed.  

Spalding reported on the proposal developed by his firm, which could help relieve the congestion on Hwy. 93 in Polson, which he described as “atrocious in the summer.” 

Polson City Manager Ed Meece said city commissioners had the project on their radar and had set aside $30,000 in their 2023 budget to hire expert help to provide advice on the issue.

“It’s not a design study,” Meece said. “This is a high-level project study to give us some high-level answers and help us to understand what would come next if the city wants to continue.”

Spalding’s firm went under contract in early July, and he and a geotech from Tetratech in Missoula were out assessing road conditions on July 14.

“The question was: what route would be viable for moving a substantial amount of traffic? We found that our emphasis was going to be on Hillcrest Lane and 7th Ave. E.,” Spalding said. 

They looked at connecting via 15th Avenue or coming back from Kerr Dam Road and around; they also looked at different junctions off Hwy. 93 south of town. 

“These routes were less viable,” Spalding said. 

He described the route along Hillcrest Lane and 7th Ave. E. as “more direct, much shorter, has no stop signs to speak of and has much less traffic congestion to worry about to get you from Highway 93 back downtown.”

The curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and parking would basically improve upon what’s already there, Spalding said.

Another issue was the intersection of Hillcrest and Highway 93, where Spalding witnessed four or five near misses.

“The outcome for me was that the number-one priority at this moment for the city is to take care of this intersection,” he said.

He recommended either making it a right-turn-in and right-turn-out intersection or closing it entirely. 

Emergency services, according to Meece, preferred the right-turn-in, right-turn-out scenario.  

Hillcrest residents object to “invasion”

Among the comments and questions raised by meeting participants: 

One woman inquired where Daniah Lane, the proposed connector between Ridgewater and Hillcrest, is located. Spalding noted that it’s west of the 90 degree turn in front of the cemetery. From Ridgeway Drive, it’s a straight shot to Hillcrest Lane.

Another question was whether 16th Ave. was considered as a route since it runs directly to the hospital. 

It had not been considered, Meece said; it could be, but he pointed out that there are houses on both sides of the street.

Others inquired if 15th Ave. was looked at as a possibility.

Issues with that route include its grade, which is pretty steep at 20 percent. Since the road would involve switchbacks it was dropped from consideration, according to Spalding. 

The commission was also asked if a traffic study had been done on Hillcrest Lane. Meece replied that it hadn’t; the slow-down sign the city uses records some rudimentary data, but a traffic study will need to be done. 

Regarding the dangerous intersection at Hillcrest and 93, someone asked why the new subdivision below Orchard Park had been approved, since it was bound to make traffic worse. 

When asked if the engineering firm had considered a traffic light at the bottom of Hillcrest where it intersects with Hwy. 93, Spalding reiterated that the safest solution right now is a right-in, right-out solution. He added that the Montana Department of Transportation will need to be involved in any solutions to that intersection since it involves Hwy. 93. 

Others asked about other options to Hillcrest and 7th Ave., and Meece noted that DJ & A had looked at alternatives, but the Hillcrest/7th Ave. option was the most feasible. 

Spalding triggered some noise from the crowd when he said if a person lived in one of those quiet neighborhoods like 15th or 16th Ave., they would be at a meeting saying “my neighborhood has been invaded.”

The crowd answered with “What do you think is happening to us?” and “We’re being invaded.” 

“We have houses on both sides of the street,” said a resident of 7th Ave. “It’s not any different. Maybe that should be studied.”

Meece replied that comparing Hillcrest Lane/7th Ave. to 15th Ave. is not a fair comparison, adding that Hillcrest is “the best, most well-positioned road to move the most traffic to the best places in our community.”

Other solutions to the egress issue from Ridgeway Drive were available at one time, but the city of Polson gave them up, he added, so he’s hoping for a good solution before the traffic situation gets even worse.

All of the information presented at the meeting is available on the City of Polson’s website. 

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