Gallatin Canyon safety improvements put to test

By Taylor Anderson
Published: Aug. 3, 2011

Montana is a state spanning long
and wide with dangerous roads over
treacherous mountain passes.
It also has some of the highest alcoholrelated
accident rates of any state in
the country.
These factors add up to make Montana,
which is 44th in the nation in
population, one of the
most dangerous places
to drive.
The Montana Department
of Transportation
released a special
report to the Big Sky
Weekly
showing
preliminary crash data
from 2010 and 2011,
and the state, if it follows current
trends, will finish worse this year than
last in fatal crashes.
The report showed there were 87
fatalities in all of 2010. So far this year
there have been 68 fatalities through
July 11.
This is “just preliminary information,”
Ryan said. “The data is not finalized
until all of the reports and investigations
and everything that goes into a
crash is completed by the Montana
Highway Patrol.”
The 2010 data will be finalized this
fall, she said.
If fatal accidents continue at the rate
they’ve been going through seven
months this year, there would potentially
be 115.85 deaths this year,
a potential statewide increase of 25
percent from last year.
***
Meanwhile, closer to home, Gallatin
County, which possesses a particularly
dangerous stretch of road, Highway
191, heading south from Bozeman
to West Yellowstone, is in a waiting
period to determine whether safety
improvements in 2009 and 2010 made
an impact.
Gallatin County two decades ago
had the highest fatal crash rating in
the state. Its 22 traffic deaths rivaled
Yellowstone County’s 19, but were
in stark contrast to
Madison’s one.
The numbers
prompted efforts by
residents to address
and improve safety
in the canyon in
2006, and in June
2008, a community
meeting was held by
the Department of Transportation to
address looming Highway 191 safety
improvements.
The Gallatin Canyon project added
turning lanes onto 64 into Big Sky,
replaced the West Fork and Jack
Smith bridges, widened shoulders,
and installed new guardrails.
Fatal accidents reduced during the
construction and continued three
months after its completion. None
of the 52 human caused crashes in
the canyon that year proved fatal,
although 13 were injury crashes,
according to the Montana Highway
Patrol database.
After crews finished the $12 million
project in Fall 2010, the roadway
was open again to all traffic, including
truckers.
Although she stressed the data as
preliminary, Ryan said in an email in
late July there have been 14 crashes
this year, resulting in no fatalities
and four injuries from the mouth of
the canyon to the turnoff to Big Sky.