Letters from Readers
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
February 11, 1999
To the Editor:
The Community Council is to be commended for scheduling the meeting last week on the Highway 83 widening project for Seeley Lake. The meeting was well attended and the Pathfinder story was an accurate and complete report of what transpired. It is what did not happen that concerns me.
The project is probably the most complex and important public infrastructure addition for Seeley Lake in some decades and unfortunately its many dimensions were not well presented and discussed.
The magnitude of the project, its impact on safety and the effects on downtown businesses seemed to be secondary, not the central elements of the presentation.
Incidentally, the 30 or so business owners and citizens who attended a public meeting 29 months ago, according to the Pathfinder article, apparently discussed more of the elements of the project. That was a long time ago and, in the meantime, the project has changed somewhat. In any case, now there is confusion and probably less than overwhelming community buy-in. Here are some issues that need further discussion.
Concerns, questions, discussion points:
1. Magnitude of the project - is the pavement wider than need be and length of turning lane longer than necessary?
2. Safety downtown - will 3 lanes increase speeds?
3. Impact on downtown businesses - will faster speeds and parking difficulties discourage tourist shopping?
4. Curbs - will traffic islands make parking more difficult and more dangerous?
5. Parking - will number of spaces be reduced for some, many businesses?
6. Snow removal - will piles be higher and visibility of motorists reduced?
7. Drainage - will increased pavement augment puddles and negatively impact lake?
8. Lighting - is the placement and design of poles safe and attractive?
9. Appearance of project - is the design attractive?
10. Are there provisions for a future sewer system?
11. Trail - has placement, surface and extent of the trail been worked out?
12. Fill for curb islands - what is the most desirable fill for these traffic barriers?
These concerns and how they are addressed by the Highway 83 widening project affect all members of our Community, not just a few downtown businesses. The Community Council has worked with the Department of Transportation to bring us this far. More, open, community-wide discussion is necessary, ideally convened by our Council.
If your account of the Highway 83 improvement project meeting is correct - and I have no reason to believe it is not correct - then those in attendance at that meeting were seriously misled.
Thus, contrary to your report, the State Department of Transportation's (DOT's) draft plans for this project shows that:
The so-called "curbs," which are actually islands, designed to line both sides of Highway 83 in the downtown area, are eight feet wide - not six feet wide.
These islands are strategically placed so as to impede, if not block, access to the post office and most businesses in the downtown area.
The five foot wide shoulders cannot be used as emergency or any other kind of parking as the shoulders are either blocked or partially occupied by the islands.
The overall effect of these blocking islands - whether by design or otherwise - will create a corridor through the downtown area, inviting traffic to get through as fast as possible without stopping for fuel, oil or water.
In short, the DOT's "Seeley Lake Townsite Curb Plan" is a business killer. As for those of us who do not depend upon one of these business establishments for our living but who live and shop in town, it will greatly reduce off-street parking and increase traffic congestion at the few points where traffic can turn off the highway. The most objectionable consequence of the proposed "improvement," however, will be to totally change, if not destroy, the small town, rural character of Seeley Lake.
Accordingly, the question is not whether to fill the curbed islands with sand or concrete but rather, how can we get the DOT to eliminate the islands from its plan to widen Highway 83. In this connection, the Pathfinder can perform a real service to the community by publishing or making available at its office a copy of the enclosed plat plan prepared by the DOT.
Alvin F. Slaight
Seeley Lake, Montana
On Monday, February 8, I attended a meeting jointly presented by the Community Council and the Highway Department detailing the highway project intended for Seeley Lake. I was overwhelmed by the scope of the proposal in its current form and left with many questions. After speaking with numerous community members it has become evident that there is both a lack of awareness of the magnitude of the project and a great deal of concern about many of its aspects.
I realize that the Community Council has tried in a variety of ways to involve the community in the planning process. It is not my intention to denigrate them. In fact they are to be commended for the many hours they have devoted to this issue. That does not, however, alter the fact that information about this project has not been dispersed to the degree that is necessary for community members to make an informed decision. May I suggest that this is not the time for the Council to say, "They had their chance," but rather the time to address the concerns which are being raised.
The project, as I understand it, would result in a strip of asphalt and concrete up to 70 feet wide replacing the current 28 foot wide paved road. This would, without question, dramatically alter the character of the downtown area. Access to this new road would be controlled by concrete-filled, pin-down curbing. In addition, lighting would be installed and drainage problems addressed. Another part of the project involves an area adjacent to the highway for use by pedestrians, cyclists, ORV's, baby carriage, snowmobiles, cross-country skiers, etc.
The rationale for these changes is that the roadway as it currently exists is unsafe. I would suggest that the detailed "improvements" raise as many safety issues as they are purported to solve.
The desire to improve safety, increase access to downtown business establishments and provide a recreation corridor are commendable goals and well worth the community's time and energy. It is questionable, in the minds of many, whether this project, as currently conceived, leads us to the attainment of those goals in the most desirable way.
I propose that we solicit more ideas and explore alternate possibilities for the achievement of these ends before committing the community to the current proposed changes, which, if implemented, will be irreversible.
Seeley Lake, Montana
To the Community,
As reported in the February 11 issue of the Pathfinder, the Highway 83 widening project through Seeley Lake (from the Valley Market north through town) is scheduled to go out for bids this summer, and construction will probably start in the spring of 2000.
The project discussed at the February 8 meeting is only part of the overall Highway 83 project that has been planned for years (since the '80's) but has been delayed for lack of funding.
The long history of the project, changes in the project scope and the continued need for public input into the process prompt me to write in an attempt to clarify some of the background and to ask for additional input on two aspects of the project.
Because of the high accident rate on the stretch of highway through Seeley Lake, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) proposed a separate safety project for the section through town in 1996 rather than waiting for the overall Highway 83 project.
In September of that year, a public meeting was held in Seeley Lake in which MDOT received public input on widening about a mile of the highway to three lanes (the center lane being a turn lane), installing pin-down curbs to control access, and lighting the highway. Meetings were also held with owners of the businesses which front on the highway to address how the project would affect parking and access.
The Community Council worked with the MDOT in getting community safety issues considered in the project and in organizing meetings for MDOT to address the concerns of both the public and individual business owners. In the past year the Community Council has been working with both the County Surveyor, who is responsible for county road projects, and MDOT on paving a walkway parallel to Highway 83 to provide a safer means for residents and visitors to walk around town without using the shoulder of the highway.
This idea was incorporated into the latest plan.
During the February 8 Highway 83 public meeting, two items were identified which require additional input from the community. Access to the highway in some parts of Seeley Lake will be controlled through the installation of pin-down curbing to create six-foot wide islands. The community has been asked to decide what material should be used to fill the islands. Options include no fill, gravel and concrete. As discussed in last week's
Pathfinder, based on the comments from the meeting, the Community Council is leaning toward concrete so that the islands won't become weed and trash traps. They could be landscaped with planter containers which could be removed in the winter so that snow could be piled on the islands.
The second item concerns the use of the light poles which will be installed along the highway through town. In some communities the poles are used to hang banners or signs for celebrations or even to hang planter baskets. If the community desires, heavier-duty poles will be installed to permit such use.
Contact any of the members of the Community Council before March 8 if you have input on either of these matters. The members are: Dave Spence, Cheri Thompson, Kevin Wetherell and myself. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Another portion of the Highway 83 Project, designated Seeley Lake South, will be under consideration in the near future. It involves widening the highway from Clearwater Junction to the Valley Market. No public meetings have been scheduled to date.
Community Council Chair