Invites community to learn more about upcoming impacts
By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – It’s been nearly two years since U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced that a $10.3 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery
(TIGER) grant was awarded to Gallatin County to be used for ambitious improvements along Lone Mountain Trail, also known as Highway 64, and to fund the expansion of the Big Sky Transportation District’s public transit services.
The March 6, 2018, announcement arrived amid growing calls for such upgrades in response to rapidly escalating traffic woes in Big Sky.
The statistics are staggering.
According to a 2017 Big Sky Transportation Study Report prepared for the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce by Bozeman-based civil engineering company Sanderson Stewart, traffic volumes on Lone Mountain Trail increased by an average of 9.2 percent annually between 2011 and 2016, with average annual daily traffic (AADT) figures surpassing pre-recession peak traffic volumes for the first time in 2015.
In 2016, the average number of vehicles on the road came in at 7,500, and that number could reach a whopping 18,000 vehicles per day if AADT volume increases at the projected year-over-year rate of 4.34 percent over the next 18 years, according to the same study.
That study, just three years later, is arguably dated, with Joey Staszcuk, a project engineer for Sanderson Stewart, telling EBS back in September of last year that recent analysis has a more accurate AADT closer to 10 percent.
Traffic, taken on its own, was just one side of the TIGER grant coin—those infrastructural upgrades also greenlit the forward progress of the Powder Light employee housing development, assuaging the tangentially mounting issue of shrinking opportunity for the Big Sky workforce to live in Big Sky.
Those TIGER grant funds were frozen for over 15 months as they awaited signoff from the county on June 11, 2019. As Sanderson Stewart reviews bids from contractors to handle the expansive upgrades—set to take approximately two years to complete—the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce hosted a TIGER Grant Community Involvement Public Discussion at the Big Sky Medical Center Community Room on Jan. 9.
The meeting was an opportunity for members of the community to meet with the Gallatin County Grants Coordinator, Jamie Grabinski, and the engineering team from Sanderson Stewart, with an emphasis on asking preliminary questions geared toward understanding the tentative impacts on day-to-day living in Big Sky.
“Essentially [the meeting] was really about flushing out the details, determining where the rubber hits the road. That ‘x’ means ‘y’ and ‘z,’” said Candace Carr Strauss, CEO of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce. “The purpose was to provide more in-depth detail to a previously topline story, adding new levels of granularity.”
According to Danielle Scharf, principal and Bozeman regional manager at Sanderson Stewart, there was little in the way of unexpected questions and commentary from the roughly 20 members of the public in attendance.
“People were mostly concerned with the hassle of the traffic, but we think all will be happy in the end with the results,” Scharf said.
Sanderson Stewart began design plans for upgrades to Lone Mountain Trail as far west as the main entrance to Big Sky Resort and as far east as the intersection of U.S. Highway 191 back in November 2019—those instillations include nine left-turn lanes and at least one traffic signal, upgraded wildlife, pullout, curve warning and illegal parking signage, and expansions to trails, bridges, tunnels and other pedestrian walkways adjacent to the road.
“The design process is well underway,” Scharf said. “Most of the projects that were in the original application are still in the application … right turn lanes were always considered optional because the Department of Transportation was always concerned with safety and sight issues they might create.”
For Carr Strauss, the meeting signified years of work and progress coming to a head.
“From the announcement to actually now seeing the actual work feels like an eternity,” Carr Strauss said. “We’re so enthused to see things coming to fruition.”
- Install left-turn lanes at key intersections to ease congestion and enhance safety
- Install northbound lead left-turn phasing (i.e., signal upgrades at MT-64/U.S. 191)
- Left-turn lanes at Powder Light Subdivision (Ace Hardware – East)
- Left-turn lanes at Powder Light Subdivision (Ace Hardware – West)
- Right- and left-turn lanes and new traffic signal at Little Coyote Road
- Left-turn lanes at Market Place (Meadow Village)
- Left-turn lanes at Huntley Drive
- Left-turn lanes at Big Pine Drive
- Left-turn lanes at Andesite Road
- Left-turn lane at Big Sky Resort Road
- Install signage and related improvements to enhance road safety conditions
- Wildlife signage and pull-outs
- Curve warning signage
- Eliminate unauthorized roadway shoulder parking by Conoco (MT-64)
- Expand safe facilities for pedestrians and non-motorized users
- Grade-separated pedestrian crossing tunnel under MT-64 near Little Coyote Road
- Extend trail from MT-64 near the intersection with Little Coyote Road to the Big Sky Community Park and add pedestrian bridge crossing over West Fork Gallatin River
- Extend existing paved trail along south side of MT-64 from Big Pine Drive to Andesite Road