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Ad Hoc Committee formed
to deal with Highway 83 issues

Meeting Monday night revealed adamant opposition to curbed islands


Photo by Frank Netherton of pinned-down curbed islands showing a general state of disrepair after three years near Polson on Highway 93.

Seeley Swan Pathfinder
March 18, 1999
by Gary Noland

Throughout a 2-hour meeting Monday evening, around 70 people moved toward a consensusguided by Community Council chairman Paul Connin how to deal with the Department of Transportation and its plan, which many consider flawed, for Highway 83 improvements in the downtown Seeley Lake area.

Emotions have been boiling since the Department of Transportation (DOT) outlined plans for widening Highway 83 from the Valley Market north through town, with pin-down curbed islands to control access on and off the highway at various points provoking the strongest dissension.

Dissenters have been numerous with nearly 500 people signing petitions asking for revisions, and there was a general consensus at Monday's Community Council meeting, which was dedicated solely to the highway plan, that the pin-down curbed islands must go, at least in the stretch from the NAPA Auto Parts Store north through town, and that the planned three-lane (center turn-out) highway should drop back to a widened two-lane highway in the same stretch.

Other issues, such as general widening, street lighting and a trail system along both sides of the highway were considered by the group with minor requests for changes.

At the onset of the meeting, Conn announced that DOT would hold another "town meeting" on March 29, but that date was changed the next day to sometime in April at the request of an ad hoc committee that was formed at Monday night's meeting.

The ad hoc committee will attempt to define in detail the issues that were agreed upon Monday evening and along with the Community Council, present clearly stated alternatives to the plan when DOT holds its next town meeting here.

Pat Holt, an attorney and co-owner of Wapiti Resort, has been working closely with Frank Netherton in obtaining specific information on the highway plan from DOT.

In calling for the ad hoc committee, Holt said that in discussions last week with Jim Weaver, DOT district supervisor, he felt the department was willing to consider changes in the plan.

Weaver indicated that he would not "ram it down our throats" if the community clearly did not want the curbed islands, Holt said, adding that they (DOT) want to work with a committee and create a plan that everyone can go forward with.

Netherton, who along with his wife, Geri, are owners of the Stage Station, has spearheaded local opposition to the plan, especially in the two-tenths of a mile stretch in the core downtown area from the NAPA store north.

In that areathe oldest part of townbusinesses front very close to the highway right-of-way, and the planned widening to three lanes with curbed islands would reduce, and in some cases eliminate, parking in front of stores.

The islands, designed by the highway department to control access onto and off the highway with more safety, also severely impact some local businesses.

"They controlled access to my store by eliminating it," said Dave Evans, owner of Video Vision.

Owners of the Ice Cream Parlor said their sign is directly on the right-of-way.

"The curbs don't make sense," said Joe Bender, owner at High Basin Sports.

Rovero's owner Larry Marx said that curbed islands, installed extensively on Highway 93 in the Polson area three years ago, are now out of alignment, impossible to keep clean, and in general "ugly."

He called for eliminating the curbing from the plan and received an overwhelming majority of hands favoring that in a spontaneous vote.

Though there was opposition to island curbing, there was acknowledgement of problem areas and discussion of alternative solutions, such as painted lines to control traffic.

"There's definitely some areas where we need help," said Curtis Friede, owner of Kurt's Polaris.

There was less oppostion to many aspects of the plan, including controlled access, south of the NAPA store to Wold's Valley Market. In this stretch of the highway, businesses, in general, are located well beyond the highway right-of-way and will be less impacted by the plan.

The plan calls for 28 lights along the highway. Netherton called them "Reserve Street Type lights, and said they're "pretty ugly," and the ad hoc committee was later asked to consider alternative designs.

The trail system, or sidewalk and walkway system, was generally accepted by the group, though specific use of that system was questioned by some who wondered if it was for walking or motorized use.

Mike Lindemer, owner Lindey's Steahouse, said that use would be "seasonal," with the trail system for walking and bicycles in the summer and for snowmobiles in the winter when the snow would be too deep for walking anyway.

There was a strong consensus that the highway project is needed and there was no oppostion in general to widening of the highway, wider shoulders, and improved lighting.

Appointed to the ad hoc committee to work on specifics were Frank Netherton, Paul Torok, Larry Marx, Dave Evans, Patricia Swan Smith, and Pat Holt.

This committee will host another meeting for the local public prior to the DOT town meeting in April.

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