KALISPELL — The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has made a final decision regarding upgrades to a dangerous intersection in front of Smith Valley School in Kalispell.
MDT District Administrator Bob Vosen says his department has elected to implement a single-lane roundabout at the Batavia Lane and U.S. Highway 2 West intersection.
“Nation-wide roundabouts have been proven to reduce fatal accidents by 90%, the roundabout provides the greatest improvement of safety,” said Vosen.
Vosen said transportation officials studied the dangerous intersection for years, conducting extensive public outreach with community members to find the best solution.
“Hundreds of people, the commonality was we need to reduce the speed in the area, and we need to provide a safe crossing for the students to get from the shared-use path to the school,” Vosen tells MTN News.
MDT officials deemed the intersection to be at high risk for severe crashes. The current speed limit is 45 mph with close to 2,000 vehicles traveling on Batavia Lane each day. Data from transportation officials shows 18 crashes occurred at the intersection between 2005 and 2017.
“Am I going to stop for the red light or am I going to run the red light, am I going to stop for a stop sign or do I choose to run the stop sign, it’s really hard to run a roundabout, so we’re forcing those speeds down which leads us to a safer intersection,” said Vosen.
Smith Valley School Superintendent Laili Komenda said school officials met frequently with the Montana Department of Transportation before the decision was announced. She said opinions were mixed on the idea of a roundabout.
“I’m open-minded. I know decisions have to be made and that they’re not always going to be the most popular decision,” said Komenda.
Due to funding allocated to other transportation projects in the Flathead, Vosen said construction on the project likely won’t start for the next five years.
“If projects come in less than we expect or we get a change in our funding source so we can bring this project inside of that five-year time-frame, this being a safety project it’s priority, so we will definitely be looking at this project to bring it in as soon as what we can,” said Vosen.
Vosen said temporary rapid flashing beacons at the crosswalk will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
MDT will host a virtual public question and answer session regarding the project on April 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those interested may visit https://www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/batavia/ to register or call the project hotline at 406-207-4484 for more information. Registration is required to attend.