Planning is moving forward on upgrading the next section of U.S. Highway 2 to a “Super 2” configuration with passing and turning lanes, with the Montana Department of Transportation looking for comments on the proposal.
The project would upgrade 10.4 miles of the highway starting from where the first upgrade ended and stopping just west of Chinook.
According to the new plan, the construction will start in 2017, and MDT has traditionally followed its schedule closely.
The middle phase of the first three projects is well underway, upgrading the highway from the hill on the east end of Havre to Pork Chop Hill about 3 miles farther east.
The work is the result of the first attempt of the 4 for 2 effort, an attempt to upgrade Highway 2 in Montana to a four-lane highway through the state — a first attempt which failed.
State Sen. Sam Kitzenberg of Glasgow, then a Republican who later changed his affiliation to the Democratic party, proposed the bill in the 2001 Legislature. It passed, but only with amendments demanded by MDT, then under the leadership of Dave Galt during the administration of Republican Gov. Judy Martz. Those amendments included only using funds earmarked by the federal government for Highway 2 four-lane upgrades.
Then-state Sen. Ken “Kim” Hansen, D-Harlem, later had that requirement removed from the law that requires MDT to work to upgrade the highway to four lanes.
Then-U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont ., now U.S. ambassador to China, secured an appropriation for the first 4 for 2 project shortly after Kitzenberg's bill passed, to study upgrading the highway from Havre to Fort Belknap to four lanes. That study started in 2002.
Supporters of the effort, including Kitzenberg, said Martz and Galt set that project up to fail, restricting the study so it excluded the economic and safety impacts of eventually upgrading Highway 2 across the state.
The results of the study released in 2004 showed the increased safety and economic impact of having a four-lane instead of a Super 2 from Havre to Fort Belknap was not enough to justify the higher cost, and the result was the Super 2 now being built.
When Democrat Brian Schweitzer took office as governor, he shifted the focus of the 4 for 2 effort, saying Montana should extend the four-lane configuration of the highway completed through North Dakota. The first project proposed for that idea, four-laning the highway from the North Dakota border about 20 miles west to Culbertson, is underway.
In its first work on that project, MDT upgraded two lanes from the border to Bainville, about 10 miles west. MDT is in the process of acquiring the last rights of way for the project. The status of the Havre East project was not available by print deadline this morning.
In the Havre project, the first section of Super 2 upgrade is complete, from Porkchop Hill about seven miles farther east to the start of the new proposed project.
The second phase started this spring, with work on the highway from Havre to Pork Chop Hill.
The third project, with a tentative start date in 2017 depending on funding availability and completing preparatory work.
The upgrade will include passing lanes, turning lanes, wider shoulders and flatter slopes into the barrow pits. Two mile-long sections with both east- and west-bound passing lanes are planned.
The project also will include culvert and bridge replacement. It will require new rights of way and relocation of utilities, with MDT staff members contacting affected landowners about acquiring property and temporary construction permits.
People wanting more information about the project can contact Steve Prinzing, Great Falls District preconstruction engineer, at 406-454-5880. For the hearing impaired, the TTY number is 406-444-7696 or 1-800-335-7592, or people can call the Montana Relay at 711. Members of the public may submit written comments to the Montana Department of Transportation Great Falls office at PO Box 1359, Great Falls MT 59403-1359, or online at http://www.mdt.mt.gov/comment_form.shtml.
People should note that their comments are for project UPN 6281000. Other formats of information about the project will be provided upon request.