By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Contracted by Gallatin County, Bozeman-based engineering firm Sanderson Stewart reports continued progress towards a 2021 springtime construction start date for upgrades to Lone Mountain Trail, also known as Highway 64, and other roadways in Big Sky thanks to the approximately $10.3 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant the county was awarded in June of 2018.
Currently, Sanderson Stewart is awaiting approval of offer packages from the county, ahead of acquiring all necessary right of way easements for the planned roadway upgrades.
“… I think we’re hoping to start sending out, at least some of [the offer packages], this week,” said Sanderson Stewart Bozeman Regional Manager and Principal Danielle Scharf.
“One, I think it’s exciting. Two, it is a relief that it is moving forward, [that] it is progressing,” said Gallatin County Grants Coordinator Jamie Grabinski of the project’s progress.
The offer packages were previously reviewed by the Montana Department of Transportation and Scharf said that Sanderson Stewart has already been in contact with the landowners involved in the necessary right of way acquisitions. She is confident that if the offer packages are approved by the county, they’ll acquire the necessary easements.
In December and January, following the acquisition of the right of way easements, Sanderson Stewart will enter the bidding process for the project, seeking bids from contractors. They currently estimate that the roadway improvements will cost roughly $6.3 million with construction anticipated to begin in May.
According to Sanderson Stewart, planned roadway upgrades include: improvements and construction of eight left turn lanes at various intersections along Highway 64, a traffic signal to be installed at the Highway 64 intersection with Little Coyote Road, a pedestrian bridge and tunnel to be constructed near Little Coyote Road, vehicle pull-out areas, additional signage and recreation paths among other additions.
Discussions between Sanderson Stewart and MDT led to the conclusion that right turn lanes will not be included in the roadway improvements. The addition of right turn lanes would have required an amendment to the originally submitted grant proposal, according to Grabinski. While some of the right hand turns along Highway 64 have a high enough volume of vehicles executing right turns to justify a turning lane, it came down to a matter of visibility.
“Right turn lanes cause a sight distance issue often times, so they don’t always put them in just because they meet volume warrants,” Scharf said. “So they kind of review them on a case by case basis.”
Scharf added that the project involves widening the roadway shoulders of Highway 64, saying that the additional traveling surface should allow vehicles that are slowing to execute a right turn to begin exiting the traveling lane without impeding traffic.
The dispersal of the TIGER grant funds still include approximately $2.5 million allotted to the Skyline Bus system to acquire additional public transportation vehicles.
Scharf believes that while traffic will be slowed by construction, it should be possible to maintain the two-way flow of traffic throughout all or a majority of the project. She said the installation of the pedestrian tunnel would be the only improvement that could alter that plan, but it is currently anticipated that a detour route will be implemented rather than a lane closure.
“Our intent is to tell the contractor that the goal is to maintain two-way traffic throughout construction and we feel that will be pretty doable because most of the work includes widening on the shoulders,” she said.
The federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was originally awarded to Gallatin County in June of 2018.
Sanderson Stewart estimates construction will take roughly two full seasons, meaning the project will conclude in the fall of 2022.