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Highway 93 safety discussion ignites after another tragedy

Highway 93 Lolo Florence
Posted at 9:05 AM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 13:14:47-05

MISSOULA — A tragic crash near Florence left one woman dead last Friday.

This was one of many wrecks on the busy stretch of road and now residents of the Bitterroot are circulating a petition calling on the Montana Department of Transportation to address what they say are problems on US Highway 93.

The road -- which stretches from southern Idaho to the Canadian border -- covers immense ground, touching Western Montana cities and towns along the way.

"It carries a lot of traffic," noted Montana Department of Transportation District 1 Administrator Bob Vosen.

The road also carries the weight of tragedy.

Last Friday, 61-year-old Christine Howe of Florence died in a multi-vehicle accident on Highway 93 that also sent two people to the hospital.

“You know, anytime we have a death on our roadways, it’s a terrible tragedy,” said Vosen, “So we're always trying to figure out how and what we can do to improve the safety of the system.”

Vosen would fix every bump in the road if he could, but the roadblocks are endless.

“It's difficult,” he said, “When I sit down and look at the list of needs that we have and I have to make determinations on do we build here or do we build there."

MDT can only address as many issues as they have the funding for. That funding, which comes from taxpayers, isn’t unlimited.

“We've got hundreds of millions of dollars of identified unfunded projects,” said Vosen.

They can’t fix every problem right now, so they do what they can, focusing on what will give Western Montana the best return on its investment.

Over the next five years, those priorities include the Dern and Springcreek Road intersection located just outside of Kalispell, along with Secondary 206 between Kalispell and Columbia Falls.

Fortunately for residents of the Bitterroot MDT also has some incremental work to begin on Highway 93, south of Missoula.

While any drastic improvements aren’t on the docket just yet, MDT plans to install centerline rumble strips on the roadway this summer.

Vosen told MTN News that in most cases, major projects can only be addressed once substantial data has been collected.

Oftentimes, that data would need to show clusters of crashes or a trend in a certain type of crash.

“We can't always be reactive to every individual incident, or else we can lose sight of the big picture, and then the whole system can collapse,” said Vosen.

A silent vigil will be held on Friday from 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. to bring awareness to Highway 93 safety improvements. Attendees are invited to line the west bike path between Lolo and Florence.

Parking will be available at the park and ride parking lots near Trader Brothers and Carlton Creek as well as in the main parking lot near Florence-Carlton High School. Attendees have been asked not to park on the highway shoulder, driveways, or access roads.