Updates considered to transportation plan to move two projects to recommended list

The Long Range Transportation Plan for the Great Falls area was updated last year, but is getting another minor update.

The current proposed update is an amendment to shift a project priority.

Public comment period open on regional transportation plan; several area road projects coming up

The Technical Advisory Committee ,which is the technical body charged with analyzing transportation needs in the community, has recommended moving two projects forward for use of Surface Transportation Program-Urban funds, according to the staff report.

The projects are:

  • reconstruction of Watson Coulee Road between the Northwest Bypass and Vaughn Road; and
  • reconstruction of 9th Street Northwest between the Northwest Bypass and Central Avenue West.

Both of the reconstruction projects are listed in the LRTP, but only the 9th Street Northwest project is on the “Recommended List.”

Public meeting scheduled for effort to update the Great Falls transportation plan

Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner, said during the June 25 planning board meeting that 9th Street Northwest doesn’t have curbs or gutters and is “generally in poor condition.”

The state suggested choosing another project nearby to make the most efficient use of resources.

Watson Coulee Road, Finch said, “gets a fair amount of abuse.”

Roundabouts; auxiliary lane; rerouting frontage road considered for Gore Hill

The Watson Coulee Road project is on what’s known as the plan’s “Illustrative List” of projects, which are desired by the community to address transportation needs, but can’t yet be considered in the recommended category because their added costs exceed the amount of anticipated funding being available.

Finch said the LRTP is required to be fiscally constrained which causes transportation projects to be grouped in these two categories.

The current plan shows an anticipated surplus of $5.8 million in the Surface Transportation Program-Urban funding category in the first five years of the plan.

Finch said the Watson Coulee Road project is an estimated $2.1 million so there’s room to move the project to the recommended projects list.

The amendment still needs approval from the City Commission and the Policy Coordinating Committee.

The funding for the project comes through state and federal transportation dollars and will not require city funds, according to city staff.

The planning board also recommended approval of a minor modification to the Transportation Improvement Plan, which is a staged, five-year, intermodal program of transportation projects proposed for implementation in the Great Falls area and includes projects financed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Montana Department of Transportation or local matched funds.

Federal regulations require the period preparation and endorsement of the plan.

The local Metropolitan Planning Organization has identified and constructed transportation projects through the TIPs since 1976 and the most recent was approved by the Policy Coordinating Committee in 2018. That organization includes officials from city and county agencies.

The planning board voted to recommend approval of the following changes:

  • The addition of a project to begin design of a Gore Hill (Airport) Interchange
    improvement. This project is being managed by the Montana Department of  Transportation. Currently, a consultant’s study of the interchange is wrapping up,
    and a local open house was recently held in Great Falls to receive input on the
    study results. The next step will be to follow through with a designed
    improvement.
  • The addition of two new STP-Urban projects: 9th Street Northwest reconstruction and Watson Coulee Road reconstruction.
  • The addition of a rumble strip safety project on US 87 north of the city.
  • The addition of a pavement preservation project on Fox Farm Road.
  • The addition of a safety project at the intersection of Park Drive and 1st Avenue North.
  • Various budget adjustments and shifts of project phases from one fiscal year to another are also included.

The amendments will still have to be considered by the Policy Coordinating Committee.