In an effort to be proactive when it comes to planning, BfP is sponsoring a panel discussion April 19, Tuesday night, 7 p.m. at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT. The Montana Department of Transportation has a multi-million dollar improvement plan in place for the Eastside Highway between Eight Mile Creek Road and Wildfowl Lane. The department is not, however, considering either wildlife crossings or bike paths. We believe that to be shortsighted in view of the facts that the Eastside Highway rates as one of the top 10 most dangerous roads in Montana, with wildlife collisions a major factor in that rating; and with the 40th anniversary of the Bikecentennial coming up this summer. We can expect thousands of bicyclists riding through the valley, which will only increase the focus on the Bitterroot for cyclists in the years to come.
We believe the money is available for both wildlife crossings and bike paths. What’s missing is the political will. That’s where we all come in. We hope you can make this panel discussion on April 19. Though putting political pressure on the decision makers is always a time-consuming effort, it’s easier and cheaper to do things right the first time than to come back later and try to repair shortsighted projects.
The Eastside Highway is due for significant repairs in the north valley. That provides an opportunity for citizens to weigh in on two crucial transportation amenities that may get overlooked in the planning process.
The Montana Department of Transportation proposes to widen the Eastside Highway and construct left-turn lanes from the new roundabout at Eightmile Creek Road south to Ambrose Lane. These repairs are necessary for a road that rates as one of the 10 worst for crashes in Montana.
Unfortunately, MDOT is not, at this time, considering adding bike paths or wildlife crossings in its design.
Bitterrooters for Planning is working to ensure that bike paths and wildlife crossings will ultimately be included in the final road design.
To that end, BfP will sponsor a public discussion on Eastside Highway improvements on April 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge conference room. This discussion will feature a panel of speakers representing highway engineers, wildlife conservationists, bicyclists and civic organizations.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Bikecentennial, and thousands of bicyclists from around the country and the world will be riding through the valley. This anniversary ride is expected to focus attention on the Bitterroot Valley, which will bring even more bicyclists in coming years.
Wildlife crossings are another critical element of transportation design and planning, and are essential for the safety of wildlife and motorists alike.
A bike path along the Eastside Highway near the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, and adequate wildlife crossings make sense for the future, but the planning should begin now.