Seeley Swan Pathfinder
April 15, 1999
by Gary Noland
The threat of "war" only a few weeks ago turned into a "lovefest" Monday night when business owners and residents gave their blessing to a revised improvement plan for Highway 83 in downtown Seeley Lake.
When Jim Weaver, western regional supervisor for the Department of Transportation, asked for public opinion, Gary Bender, owner of High Basin Sports was the first to applaud the highway department for bending to wishes of the community.
"I'm in favor of the project, and commend you and the people of Seeley Lake and the cooler heads that have prevailed," Bender said.
Pat Holt, an attorney who had represented business owners here, went on record in personally thanking "...Weaver and others who worked with the committee (local ad hoc group) to re-design the plan."
And Frank Netherton, Stage Station owner who spearheaded initial opposition to the plan as it was proposed earlier this year, called for a show-of-hands in favor of the revised plan as outlined minutes earlier by Weaver.
Most hands went up in favor, and for the record, since this was an official highway public hearing on the matter, Weaver asked for a show of hands opposing the plan. There were none.
"What a lovefest!" Weaver exclaimed.
The plan, as presented Monday night at the Seeley Lake Elementary Multi-pupose Room, eliminated pin-down curbed islands designed for access control to local businesses and narrowed a three-lane proposal to two lanes in the heart of the downtown area, from B Street to just north of Cedar Street where the project ends. The highway will be three lane from where it begins just south of Wold's Valley Market at Wagon Wheel Way to B Street.
The third lane is a turnout lane.
The original plan called for extensive curbing and three lanes for the entire 1.9 mile length of the project.
"The road will be significantly wider than it is today," Weaver said, adding that the new proposal "does not include any curbs."
Street lighting will be put in place in the Valley Market area, but then skip to Riverview Drive where it begins again for the rest of the project.
A trail, or walkway, running for most of the project on both sides of the highway (except from Lindey's Steakhouse to B Street on the west side) is still in the design stages and will be paved, of varying widths to a maximum of ten feet, and is funded by Community Transportation Enhancement Project (CTEP) funds of $120,000 approved by Missoula County.
The project costs will run an estimated $1.3 million without the trail path, or around $1.5 million with the trail, Weaver said.
The project will be put out for bid this fall, Weaver said, with construction to start next spring or summer.
Bruce Wold spoke for most businesses when he asked how long construction would take, since fair weather and especially summer brings a high influx of tourists into local businesses, and road construction will surely hurt the economy.
Weaver explained that it is not a large project, as highway projects go, and he estimated it could be completed in two to three months, depending on the contractor and weather, maybe by "...the first of July," a date which local businesses hope will hold.
It will impact businesses, Weaver said, but added that access to local businesses will be provided for during construction.
Though there was minimal discussion of the project, people did focus on speed limits in the downtown area and questioned Weaver extensively on this.
Weaver explained that speed limits are not a part of the project, and that they can only be changed, according to state law, after an engineering study has been done.
He suggested that people here wait until after the project is completed before requesting a study, and then to only request a "study for the purpose of lowering speed limits."
This language is fairly new in the statutes and before this, studies people requested might have resulted in even higher posted speed limits.
In questions from the audience, Ed Bezanson asked about a timetable for Highway 83 improvements from the Clearwater Junction to Seeley Lake.
Weaver said initial plans were to let this project out for bid next spring, but that it was now likely that would be delayed a year. Bezanson requested that a public hearing be held on that project also.