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Trail added to Highway 83 project,
construction slated for next year

Seeley Swan Pathfinder
February 11, 1999
by Gary Noland

The long-awaited Highway 83 improvement project through downtown Seeley Lake will not happen this year as earlier forecast, but will more than likely start in the spring of 2000, according to Vaughn Anderson, principal engineer for consulting firm of Cruyvestein Johnson & Anderson in Missoula.

A trail system, promoted by the Seeley Lake Community Council and approved with financial support from the Missoula County Commissioners, has been incorporated into the widening and resurfacing project, and final details on that will not be ready for another 30 days.

Horace Brown, county surveyor, announced at a community meeting Monday evening at the Seeley Lake Elementary school that the county commissioners had approved a transfer of funds to the Montana Department of Transportation (DOT) to help fund the trail system.

The meeting drew a crowd of around 50 local residents in addition to a half dozen DOT personnel and county commissioner Bill Carey. The meeting was originally planned for Missoula, but at the encouragement of the Community Council, it was moved to Seeley Lake and preceded the regular council meeting Monday night, according to Cheri Thompson, council member.

Anderson said the project, from Whitetail Drive north through the downtown area, will probably be let for bid in August or September this year with the successful bidder starting construction the following spring.

When completed, the highway artery through Seeley Lake will be transformed with a widening of the highway to three lanes, two lanes plus a center left-hand turn lane, five-foot shoulders, pinned-down curb islands six feet wide, and a trail system varying from a few feet wide on the west side of the highway to 10 feet wide on the east side providing a walk-way through the downtown area.

It was also noted that the trail system would accomodate snowmobilers during the winter months.

The trail system will cost an estimated $140,000, with the county providing $21,000 of that from federal Community Transportation Enhancement Program funds (CTEP), according to Brown.

Anderson explained that what was originally one project involving reconstruction from the Clearwater Junction through Seeley Lake has been split into two projectsone from the Junction to Whitetail Drive (at the Valley Market), and one from the Valley Market north through town. The downtown project takes place first, with no timetable announced on the other stretch where new overlays a couple years ago have improved that part.

Discussion Monday evening focused on the trail system and several concerns expressed about the pin-down curbing and drainage problems at spots in the downtown area.

Kurt Freide, expressing the concerns of many in the audience about curbing and winter plowing, wanted to know if the pin-down curbing could be removed in the winter.

But that would be too expensive, according to Anderson, and DOT district supervisor Jim Weaver assured business people that snow would not be plowed onto private property.

"The road may get narrower and the trail path covered up," Weaver said, if a heavy winter is encountered.

The curbing is a necessary for safety and access. Anderson said that now, in the downtown area, cars leave and enter the highway at any point they wish, creating a safety problem.

The curb islands will define and allow two-way access to businesses in a controlled fashion, he said, adding that the DOT wants to know how the community wants the curbed islands filled inwith sand and gravel, or concrete. That measure is being taken up by the Community Council who will have to make a decision in the next 30 days.

Drainage problems were pointed out to the engineers by several local residents, with the most severe problems at Locust Lane (school road) and Cedar Lane near the Duck Inn, where water accumulates in the spring runoff.

"We don't want it to drain into the lake," said Frank Netherton when it was pointed out that water accumulating near Cedar Lane drains through a pipe under the highway, then on to the lake in an open trough.

Anderson said that though funds are limited for drainage, sumps can be installed and other precautions taken to help control those problems.

Though the county has jurisdiction over the trail system for five years, Brown said that use of the trail is a community decision.

"The trail is for the community and it's up to you to decide how to use it," he said when asked if it was for bicycles, pedestrians, skateboarders, or snowmobilers. The concensus was it would be a multi-use pathway, with the possibility of grooming it for snowmobilers in the winter.

In general, there was very little opposition to any of the highway proposals, which also call for extensive lighting to be maintained by the state, and most people seemed satisfied with the hearing.

The meeting, which lasted from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m., preceded the regular Community Council meeting.

At the following regular Council meeting, Council members discussed how to involve the public in a decision on the fill for the curbed islands, and after some discussion a motion was made to urge people with opinions to contact any of the council members with their thoughts, and input would also be gained from an upcoming Chamber meeting. The council will have to make a decision by March 8, and was leaning toward concrete fill to prevent the islands from becoming litter traps.

Council members Cheri Thompson and Kevin Wetherell will also be contacting landowners along the east side of Highway 83 in the downtown area to solicit their approval for small right-of-way easements in areas where there is not enough regular right-of-way to permit the trail pathway. These easements have to be arranged for in the next 30 days also.

The highway widening to about 48 feet will be accomplished, for the most part, within the existing DOT right-of-way.

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