by Gary Noland
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
April 8, 1999
With a Department of Transportation public meeting scheduled here next Monday evening, local businessmen and residents gathered at the Community Hall Monday night to finalize understandings of changes they want in DOT's plan for Highway 83 improvement in downtown Seeley Lake.
Around 50 to 60 people have focused their concerns through an ad hoc committee formed March 15 and an apparent unified front has developed to negotiate with DOT on changes to the plan.
Next Monday, April 12, DOT will hold in informal open house from 4 to 6 p.m. with a formal question period at 7 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Elementary School multi-purpose room. The public is invited to attend.
This second meeting follows a February 8 meeting earlier this year at which DOT announced a highway widening and curbing plan that provoked considerable opposition from businesses in the heart of the downtown area where island curbing threatened to eliminate or curtail parking spaces in front of businesses whose stores front close to the highway right-of-way.
The opposition, spearheaded by Frank Netherton, owner along with his wife, Geri, of the Stage Station business, has met with Jim Weaver, DOT district supervisor for western Montana, and proposed changes to the original plan that apparently will be acceptable to the highway department.
Netherton, who conducted Monday night's meeting for the committee, outlined committee proposals which eliminate all curbing in the project and narrows the proposed three-lane highway down to two lanes from B Street to Cedar Street in the heart of downtown. The rest of the 1.9-mile project, from just north of Wagon Wheel Way near Wold's Valley Market on north to B Street will remain three lanes as DOT proposed.
Netherton said Weaver has agreed to these changes and will present the changes at the public meeting on April 12.
Though there have been several issues prompting local opposition, the single, most emotional issue has been the pin-down curbing proposed in the original DOT plan.
"There will be no curbing in the entire project," Netherton said. Access to individual businesses will be facilitated by new or existing driveways and barrow pits, he said. "Curbing was the major issue and they have agreed to this unless we are divided on it and don't have our act together."
Speed limits, which many want reduced in the heart of town, will not be an item for negotiation, Netherton said. That will have to be taken up with the legislature after the highway improvement is completed, he added.
The walkway from Wold's Valley Market through town is a project funded by Missoula County and is a separate issue from the highway plan, though DOT has agreed to build it, Netherton said.
Lighting, according to Netherton, will consist of 28 lights from Riverview Drive to Cedar Lane. Weaver "...didn't give us a lot of options here," Netherton said. DOT will install upgraded lighting poles only if local businesses pay for the extra cost, according to Netherton.
Several sumps will be installed at exact locations yet to be determined to help drain the winter run-off, according to Seeley Lake water district manager Paul Torok who said DOT officials will do yet another survey to determine sump placements.
Most of the 1.9 mile project is being funded by federal safety funds, Netherton said, with safety priority measures consisting of street lighting first, a third turn-out lane second, and access control third.
Several people felt that lighting should be extended further south from Riverview Drive to Wold's Valley Market.
"This is where most of the accidents are," said Larry Ashmore, who has researched the accident statistics.
Elinor Williamson noted that excess speed is a problem from Wold's Valley Market on past the Lazy Pine Mall, and that lighting is needed in this area because drivers slow down in lighted areas.
Bob Stefzcak suggested money saved from dropping to two lanes from three in the downtown area could be used for additional lighting, but Netherton said Weaver told the committee he was limited by the lighting budge, and Patricia Swan Smith, committee member, said the lighting project was initially considered on its own merits, and budget, before the Lazy Pine Mall was built.
Pat Holt felt that DOT might be receptive to considering maybe more lighting and extending the lighting further south than Riverview Drive.
The group also expressed a preference for 2-foot square, or rounded, concrete bases to anchor the light poles.
Though additional lighting might be an issue at next Monday's DOT meeting, the local group, which has already come to some understandings with Weaver and DOT, especially on curbing and highway width downtown, will likely greet DOT officials in a more congenial manner Monday night than might have happend without these changes.
Netherton, who has voiced the strongest opposition before Weaver agreed to concessions, said: "I suggest we go forward from here. Give some and get some."