Area transportation plan getting minor update
The Great Falls Area Long Range Transportation Plan is getting a minor update this year.
It was approved by the Cascade County Commission and the city planning board on Aug. 14 and next week it goes to the City Commission for consideration.
A major update was done in 2014 and “in four years not much changes in the Great Falls area,” in terms of transportation and the amount of time it takes to move projects forward, Andrew Finch told county commissioners last week.
Finch is the transportation planner for the city of Great Falls.
This year’s update was required by federal regulations so that the region can continue received federal dollars for transportation projects and allowed planners to check their growth projections and assumptions.
“Growth is happening where we thought it would grow,” Finch said last week.
This year’s documents updates the base year to 2018 with a planning horizon date of 2038; updates demographic estimates and projections; updated level of service ratings, which is a measurement of delay at traffic signals; analysis of major roads for construction; updating intersection crash “hot spots” with latest data; adding new non-motorized facilities to map; among other updates.
The city and its consultant held two formal public meetings to provide info and allow for public input. Those meetings were sparsely attended. The plan and relevant information is also available at www.greatfallstransplan.com.
The 2014 plan identified transportation areas at the highest risk of deterioration in service over the term of the plan. The 2018 update reaffirmed those areas with some of the main areas of concern being:
- Highway 87/15th St NE/Old Havre Highway, and various associated roadway segments and connections – including Bootlegger Trail;
- All five interchanges along the Interstate 15 corridor. Public comment identified concern at the Airport (congestion and safety) and Emerson Junction (limited access) interchanges, while a recent MDT Study quantified operational deficiencies at Exit 0;
- Fox Farm Rd./Country Club Boulevard Intersection, including the I-315 leg; and
- River Drive North from 15th Street North to 38th Street North (2-lane segment), including the intersection at 25th Street North.
There have been public meetings and some planning related to the River Drive and 25th Street North intersection. Finch said during the Aug. 14 planning board meeting that a potential recommendation could be coming in the near future.
During the Aug. 8 county commission work session, Commissioner Joe Briggs asked if there was any change in the state’s plans for the Bootlegger/Havre Highway intersection that he called “malfunction junction.”
Finch said it was still listed as a priority at the local level, but the state is leap frogging to the hill by the landfill and will then move back in toward town with improvement.
As that area grows, Finch said there’s a plan to develop 43rd Avenue Northeast as an east-west collector.
Additional collectors will likely be needed on the southern end of the city, Finch said in multiple meetings.
Commissioner Jim Larson asked about the interstate interchange at Emerson Junction.
“We recognize locally that would be a huge boon to traffic,” Finch said, but the state says it’s working fine. “We keep telling them that’s not the point.”
City Manager Greg Doyon has expressed frustration over Emerson Junction on many occasions, including during a City Commission last week.
Finch said state officials have said the only way to make that a full interchange is to move it upstream, but Finch said he questions that.
He said the community would have to fund a feasibility study for the state to take any action, but the state is looking at making changes at the airport interchange.