By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Approximately two-dozen people attended a July 18 presentation on traffic issues in Big Sky presented by the chamber of commerce. The meeting was held in the Big Sky Water and Sewer District boardroom and led by Danielle Scharf, a senior transportation engineer with Sanderson Stewart.
A considerable portion of the meeting was spent discussing the intersection of highways 191 and 64, and trying to come up with ways to make traffic move through Gallatin Canyon more smoothly.
Scharf said there’s a safety concern when drivers park on the shoulder of the north side of Highway 64, also known as Lone Mountain Trail, and cross the road to access the Conoco on the south side.
“It’s just a really bad place for pedestrians to be crossing the highway,” Scharf said of the area just west of the intersection of highways 191 and 64. In addition to creating a potentially dangerous situation for pedestrians, trucks parked along the shoulder tend to block signage, including a sign to warn motorists of the bighorn sheep that frequently congregate just west of the Conoco.
According to the study, a number of intersections along Lone Mountain Trail warrant improvements like turn lanes and signals, including the entrances to Ace Hardware, Roxy’s Market, Big Pine Drive, and at Andesite Road. The turn into Big Sky Resort Road warrants a traffic light as well. “It would be a tricky signal installation,” Scharf said of the latter, noting the turning patterns and tight geography.
Funding for improvements to Highway 64 might be a bit tricky too. Scharf said the Montana Department of Transportation considers it an “off-system” roadway, and as such, it doesn’t contribute money to improvement projects unless they fall under the bridge repair or safety program funding categories.
Safety program funds are competitive. At this point, it doesn’t appear that Highway 64’s crash data would grab the attention of those who administer the grants, Scharf said.
Several attendees acknowledged that Big Sky has a pretty strong track record of paying for its own projects. “There’s a danger of training MDT that Big Sky fully funds all of its own stuff,” countered David O’Connor, chair of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. “We pay taxes, too.”
Slow-moving vehicles dominated the discussion for problem areas along Highway 191. Scharf said one possibility to eliminate a string of vehicles backing up behind slow-moving drivers in Gallatin Canyon is additional signage that’s more directive, and stepping up enforcement. According to state law, if four or more vehicles are trailing a slow-moving driver on a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe, the driver is required to pull over at the nearest safe turnout and let the other vehicles by.
Kevin Germain, a member of the Big Sky Resort Area District resort tax board, said there are at least four areas in the canyon where there’s appropriate geography to put in a passing lane. “I know it’s a longer lead [time], more expensive item, but I think it’s the only thing that’s going to get traffic moving more seamlessly in that canyon,” he said.
The study also recommended installing additional emergency phones in the canyon with advanced signage, along with a number of other potential improvements.
The chamber of commerce is seeking feedback on the report through Wednesday, July 26, before it’s considered for adoption by the Gallatin and Madison county commissions.
Visit bigskychamber.com for the full report.