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Vote to expand transportation district could create continuity, ease

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The Big Sky Transportation District, which services the community using the Skyline bus system and others, is up for an expansion so that its boundary aligns with that of the Big Sky Resort Area District. OUTLAW PARTNERS PHOTO

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – On May 4, a select pool of voters in Big Sky will elect to either expand the current Big Sky Transportation District boundary to be congruent with the Big Sky Resort Area District boundary or leave it as is.

The district boundary frames a portion of Montana Highway 64, or Lone Mountain Road, from the road’s junction with U.S. Highway 191 up to Big Sky Resort as well as the stretch of U.S. 191 from the Big Horn Center south to the Corral. While most of Town Center is encompassed, pieces to the south are not.

Established in 1991, the Big Sky Transportation District is one of several districts in the Big Sky area and is charged with providing transportation services to the otherwise unincorporated, dual-county community. The district has a board of three county-commission appointed members and two staff members.

David Kack, the district’s coordinator, pointed to a number of reasons to expand the boundary.

One, he said, is to better reflect the geographical scope of the services the district actually provides. The district services, including the Skyline Bus, vanpooling and some by-demand transportation in the shoulder seasons, extend well beyond the current boundary. Bus routes exist to and from Bozeman, up the mountain to Moonlight Basin and vanpooling to the Yellowstone Club.

“We are providing service to places like Moonlight Basin and parts of the Town Center that aren’t in the current transportation district so it makes sense to be as broad as we can,” said Kack, adding that the district has also made it a point to match services to needs, and in a growing community the needs are likely to expand.

“Certainly, in the summer there’s desire to get service to some of the trailheads again,” Kack said. “Some of those are a little farther than the places we’re going right now so sometimes you can’t stretch a route far enough and you just have to create some new service.” In addition, he said there’s been discussion about adding more buses and employees, an airport service, vanpools with other large employers like Big Sky Resort, among other expansions.

Matching some of the boundaries, Kack said, will also create clarity and ease. For example, only part of the Big Sky area electorate—voters registered in the Big Sky Area District but not the transportation district—may vote on the issue of the transportation boundary expansion. Having congruent district boundaries uncomplicates such matters.

Montana law also permits urban transportation districts to levy a tax in mills on all property within the transportation district. According to Kack, bringing more property into the boundary will help reduce that levy if it becomes necessary because a higher quantity of properties will be contributing. 

According to a 2020 Montana Department of Transportation report, the Big Sky Transportation District is one of the top rural providers in the state, third only to Butte Silver Bow Transit and the HRDC/Galavan/Streamline services in Bozeman. In the last 10 years, collective Skyline services provide more than 168,000 total annual rides on average, a number that is trending upwards quickly. The district reports that since the 2010 fiscal year, rides are up 81 percent.

Eligible voters will receive a mail-in ballot by mid-April. The ballots must be returned by May 4.

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