BSCO seeks nearly $1 million state grant for pedestrian tunnel project

By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – If two big projects, a stoplight installation on Highway 64 and a pedestrian tunnel to run underneath it, continue to move forward as intended, Big Sky stands to make significant headway in its struggle to make a community intersected by a highway safer for pedestrians and motorists.

The installation of the stoplight at the intersection of Highway 64 and Ousel Falls Road, one of the busiest intersections in Big Sky, is expected to take approximately 30 days, and construction is slated for late spring when the ground thaws.

Ciara Wolfe, executive director of Big Sky Community Organization, the nonprofit that’s spearheading the project, said BSCO is shooting for a June 30 completion date—and ideally sooner.

Wolfe said the light will be covered for two weeks following the installation to allow drivers time to adjust to it. BSCO would like the light to be fully operation before July Fourth to accommodate the heavy visitor traffic that typically accompanies the holiday.

In addition to the stoplight, a four-way crosswalk will be installed with curbs, gutters, pavement markings and pedestrian-friendly ramps.

Half of the project was funded by a Big Sky Resort Area District tax board appropriation of $175,000, and the remaining 50 percent was split between donations by the Simkins family, Lone Mountain Land Company and the Yellowstone Club.

In response to community input that the roadway would have been better served by a roundabout, Wolfe said BSCO trusted the recommendation of the traffic engineers. “[They] understand the traffic dynamics, the ebb and flow [of vehicles], sight distance and traffic management,” she said. Bringing motorists to a complete stop will allow pedestrians to cross more safely, Wolfe added.

Last July, a pedestrian was flown to Billings in an air ambulance and admitted to the intensive care unit after being struck by a motorist while crossing Highway 64 near its intersection with Ousel Falls Road.

Once motorists have become accustomed to the stoplight, the Montana Department of Transportation will conduct a speed study on Highway 64. Wolfe said she hopes the speed limit will be lowered given the fact Big Sky has a highway splitting the epicenter of its commercial and residential districts.

The stretch of Highway 64 between Highway 191 and Town Center is the site of regular traffic accidents due in part to its lack of a protected left-hand turn lane. Motorists coming to a full stop on the highway to turn into commercial areas like the Big Sky Medical Center, Ace Hardware and Roxy’s Market are often rear-ended by drivers who fail to slow adequately after traveling at near-highway speeds, especially during rush-hour traffic.

The future of another big transportation safety project—a pedestrian tunnel that would run under Highway 64 near its intersection with Little Coyote Road—will become more clear in the coming months.

BSCO is asking the State of Montana for a $906,942 grant from its Transportation Alternatives Program to fund the construction of the tunnel. Wolfe said this is the safest option for that area since it completely separates pedestrians and motorists.

The Big Sky Trails, Recreation and Park District and BSCO will present the final grant to the Gallatin County Commission for approval on March 21.

If it’s selected for the Transportation Alternatives Program, Big Sky will have received all of the necessary funding to move the years-long process forward. Wolfe said that given present timelines, the earliest construction would start on that project is summer 2018.

BSCO is seeking community participation in the project in the form of letters of support for the grant. “[The Transportation Alternatives Program] is a competitive grant and this is an opportunity where the community can really help do something,” Wolfe said. “This isn’t about something that should be controversial—this is outside funding that’s going to be given to another community if it’s not given to us.”

For more information about how to submit comment on the pedestrian tunnel project, visit bscomt.org.