WHITEFISH – Montana Department of Transportation engineers are hoping work will start soon on a comprehensive study of Whitefish traffic, with an eye toward easing the crunch of cars downtown, especially during peak traffic seasons.
Whitefish is enjoying a growing reputation for its downtown charm, no matter whether it’s winter or summer. But the popularity — coupled with the growing traffic volumes trying to get through the Flathead — is leading to some increasing congestion issues which could take some innovative solutions to iron out.
MDT engineers met with Whitefish city leaders last summer for initial discussions, and are planning to follow up this spring.
“There’s a lot of concern about traffic congestion with traffic moving through Whitefish. And it was interesting, during those discussions,” MDT Missoula District Administrator Ed Toavs said.
“A lot of traffic gets backed up through those intersections and when you try to, say, cross the street for example, sometimes you can’t even do it in the crosswalk because you have to walk around, or in front and behind vehicles,” Toavs explained. “So it gives you an idea of the bumper-to-bumper nature that Whitefish is seeing.”
And it’s not just people heading to Whitefish Mountain Resort to go skiing, or heading for the lake in the summer. Toavs says there’s also the growing amount of traffic and commercial traffic heading through the northern Flathead or further north to Eureka and Canada.
With no other viable routes, all of that traffic is being squeezed through downtown. There are also questions about parking and oneway streets. And he says that breakdown, and those traffic counts, must be determined before any plans are made.
“What does the traffic analysis show? And that’s really the first step, You know, kind of taking in some traffic data, performing an analysis, maybe looking at some different options,” Toavs said. “Some can be low cost, some likely could be higher cost. But really, again, getting that data. Getting those analysis’s out.”
Toavs says public participation will be key since the solutions could take some innovation.
“Engaging the public, engaging some stakeholders and trying to figure out what would be the best solution that meets the community’s needs, but also meets the state’s needs as well as trying to move traffic safely and trying to help reduce congestion.”
Toavs says MDT is meeting with consultants and hopes to get the Whitefish traffic study underway as soon as a contract is finalized which will hopefully happen this spring or early summer.