BUTTE – The Our Lady of the Rockies group has the land and the plans to build an aerial tram to Butte’s famous statue.
But if they can’t get permission from the U.S. Highway Department, there’s no way the tram will ever get off the ground.
“The only alternative is going over the interstate with the tram,” said Jeff Ebert.
Because of this, the Our Lady group, along with help from the Montana Department of Transportation, must convince the U.S. Highway Department that the tram crossing 50 feet above a portion of Interstate 15 will not be a distraction to traffic and a safety hazard.
“The federal highways feel that there could be a possibility of riders throwing stuff out of the tram itself and the design has taken that into consideration,” Ebert said.
“It’s an enclosed area, they won’t be able to throw that out. They were worried about night time; if there’s lights that are on the tram that could cause distractions to drivers, there might be crashes,” Ebert added.
Only a few cities in the U.S. have trams that go over interstate highways, such as the one in Portland, Oregon.
Tram supporters in Butte will have a meeting this week to try to discuss developing a report for the Highway Department outlining all the tram safety precautions.
“What they need to do is kind of button that all up into a package that federal highways and Department of Transportation can review and make that final call as to whether we can allow it or not,” said Ebert.
The U.S. Highway Department will be more likely to approve this project if the Our Lady group can show that a tram would bring an added benefit to the community. And that benefit? Better access to hiking and biking trails on the East Ridge.
“This would give the opportunity to access that trail that otherwise would not be able to utilize because of how you have to get up there on a private road,” said Ebert.
It’s still a long road to cross before the tram project can take flight.