Approximately one year ago, the Fallon County Commissioners approached the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to conduct a planning corridor (truck by-pass route) study to identify and assess issues concerning traffic operations and mobility within a designated area of concern in Fallon County.
By Sherry Vogel
The MDT sent a delegation to Baker to survey the situation and committed 80 percent of the cost of the study. The study’s purpose is to identify issues, constraints, and potential improvement options that address traffic and mobility operations within the study area. This was prompted with the sudden growth of population and traffic in the area related to Bakken oil activity. The proposed XL Keystone Pipeline and the future completion of the Bakken Marketlink were also factors in this decision.
The study area included US Highway 12 from reference marker (RM) 79.0 to RM 88.1 and Montana Highway 7 from RM 31.0 to RM 37.6 which includes the city of Baker, the Baker Municipal Airport, and a portion of BNSF Railway.
John Schick, transportation planner from Missoula presented the second and final public informational meeting Oct. 20 at the fairgrounds exhibit hall. He, with other members of the study team, discussed various improvement options developed in this extensive study. They also wanted to gather community feedback on their findings.
Among proposals shared was the idea of building a roundabout at the intersection of Montana Highway 7 and Shell Oil Road. This would help orchestrate the semi and other heavy truck movement in that area. The need for such a development was based on projected traffic conditions that were analyzed for a 20 year growth period (for year 2034) based on known existing conditions and potential future development likely to occur within the study area and region. The estimated cost of the project would be between 3.2 and 3.3 million dollars.
Another recommendation targeting the mobility of larger, longer semi trucks traveling through the main street intersection was to mark the pavement by re-striping. This would provide a wider buffer, or clear zone, for turning movement to occur. This would be accomplished at a cost of $10K to $11K and at the expense of 20 parking spaces in the downtown business district.
Many innovative ideas were presented based on extensive study of the many variables related to our area. The study is invaluable as it allows for well planned infrastructure development, expanded economic growth and wise budgeting for future improvements.
In the question and answer (Q&A) period following the presentation, many Baker residents voiced their concerns in regards to a BNSF railway crossing which causes delays in traffic and has obstructed emergency vehicle access to the north side of town. The study team has included six possible solutions to solve these issues. One solution would re-direct traffic down current Railroad Avenue. It will be left to the City of Baker and Fallon County to decide and fund the route. The final results of the study will be submitted to the County by the end of the year.
A member of the team added, “The state’s hands are tied in such issues dealing with the railroad, as they don’t have colonial rights. This is within federal jurisdiction.”
For anyone interested in viewing the draft report, it is available for review online at www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/baker. MDT would like to encourage comments concerning potential issues and the view of the public. Comments can be made on the website given above and written comments can be mailed to: Corina Collins, MDT Project Manager, Montana Department of Transportation, 2960 Prospect Ave., Helena, MT 59620-1001. The deadline for the comment period is Nov. 6, 2015.