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Obstacles remain for widening Highway 93 in the Mission Valley

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Posted at 6:20 PM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 11:23:12-04

RONAN — While the Montana Department of Transportation (MCT) is pressing ahead with the first efforts to widen the remaining two-lane sections of US Highway 93 north of Ronan, it's still going to be some years before that work can extend through the rest of the Mission Valley.

When construction starts on the "Ronan North Project" in 2022, it will mark the first time the state has done widening work on Highway 93 in the Mission Valley since the big project that expanded the road to four lanes from Polson south through Pablo a decade and a half ago.

That's not because engineers don't recognize the need to improve what is one of the last remaining narrow "bottlenecks" on Western Montana's north-south corridor — but because of how difficult it is.

Post Creek Hill, one of two primary obstacles to widening the highway between St. Ignatius and Ronan

A case in point is the section known as Post Creek Hill, just north of St. Ignatius.

"We've got some interesting challenges there with you know, artesian springs in the area. Some challenging soils," MDT Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen explained. "And then there's a lot of environmental concerns. We're in just a high-impact grizzly corridor."

It doesn't get any easier after the climb into the "upper" Mission Valley.

"Then, of course, the stretch through Nine Pipes is such a such a challenging area that it's basically building right through and the entire projects going through a wetland," Vosen told MTN News.

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U.S. 93 in Lake County is one of the last two lane sections, and probably the busiest, in Western Montana

That's presenting problems that are taking years to solve, with MDT working with the CSKT Tribes, Lake County, and other agencies to figure out solutions. Solutions that could save lives on one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in Western Montana.

The pressures continue to mount with each passing year, as more and more commercial and recreational traffic heads into Northwest Montana.

A decade ago, MDT had hoped to have construction underway on at least part of this highway in the "early '20s", but the complications, and the funding pressures, and rising costs, haven't helped.

Vosen says it's an example of why the state is watching to see what Congress does with the Infrastructure Bill.

"There's some really high dollar projects to get built. So trying to continue to work with, like I say all of our partners and try to find some funding solutions and just what can we do and how can we make it happen." - MDT Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen