West Riverside will be getting a traffic signal instead of a roundabout at Montana Highway 200 and First Street, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.
“We got quite a bit of opposition from the public about a roundabout at that location,” Missoula District administrator Ed Toavs said Thursday.
The project involves a whole lot more than the signal, but the debate about whether to install a traffic light or roundabout in front of the Town Pump Travel Plaza elicited a lot of public interest, Toavs said. The state agency discussed its plans at a couple of Bonner Community Council meetings, and interest was high in the intersection.
“We learned quickly – real quick – that the community was real interested in that particular design component,” he said.
And most of the interested people didn’t want the roundabout, he said. Toavs said the department will continue to consider installing them in other places in the state, but it must listen to public feedback.
“We have to be real sensitive to the public. That is, they are the taxpayer,” he said.
The state’s decision for a signal goes against the recommendation of the Missoula County commissioners. Last month, all three commissioners signed a letter touting the benefits of roundabouts as able to “positively alter driver behavior” and reduce the number and severity of crashes.
“Having considered both options, we believe the safest and most effective alternative is a roundabout which incorporates a gated wide load bypass,” wrote chairman Bill Carey and commissioners Michele Landquist and Jean Curtiss. “Available research clearly touts the safety benefits of roundabouts.”
Another part of the project the public helped shape is the realignment of Old Highway 10, according to the department. The public preferred the alignment go through undeveloped property opposite the Town Pump than use West Riverside Road, and the preference was “pretty close to unanimous.”
“They were not interested in us building this roadway alignment on Riverside Drive in front of their houses,” Toavs said.
People who have questions for the agency should plan to attend the upcoming Bonner Community Council meeting at 7 p.m. on June 11 in the Bonner School Library unless otherwise posted: http://www.co.missoula.mt.us/rural/communitycouncils/Bonner.htm.
Toavs said the council asked department officials to do a short presentation, and he plans to review the decisions the agency made and answer questions.
In a news release, the department outlined the other components of the project, which is slated to be under construction in 2014:
- Close the existing intersection of Old Highway 10 and Montana 200;
- Improve First Street between the new Old Highway 10 intersection and the Montana 200 intersection;
- Improve the alignment of the center Town Pump approach to Montana 200;
- Install a short acceleration and merge lane at the westbound Interstate 90 off-ramp along Montana 200;
- Apply new asphalt surfacing, drainage improvements, seal and cover (chip seal), updated pavement markings, and install street lights.
“The purpose of the project is to improve safety and access in this area,” reads a news release from the department.
While the project isn’t scheduled to be built for a couple of years, Toavs said a lot of variables are in play and could affect the timeline.
For one thing, local transportation officials still are waiting on Congress to approve a new Highway Bill, and changes to current funding levels would affect the improvements. Also, the project entails property acquisition, and that work can be unpredictable.
“Sometimes, it goes really well. Sometimes, it takes more time to negotiate value,” Toavs said.
Initial – and rough – estimates put the cost of a roundabout at close to $1 million and the traffic signal at $630,000. Some truck drivers who frequently use the intersection now said they’d change their driving pattern if the state built a roundabout, and Toavs said moving people in another direction would defeat the purpose of encouraging people to use the new intersection.
“When you go out and spend public money, you want to make sure it’s going to be used and the taxpayer dollar is being spent well,” he said.
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, email@example.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.