Business community worries about Highway 93 access
RONAN — Local business owners are concerned a proposed plan for the expansion of Highway 93 has the potential to gut accessibility to many of the stores that drive Ronan’s economy.
In a town meeting last week, designers for the KLJ Engineering explained the proposed access control plan for the expansion project, which will include two one-way couplets coming in and out of town. The northbound couplet will travel along the current roadway. The southbound will be situated where First Avenue West currently lies. In creating the couplet, a design team has proposed several sites where driveways would be moved away from the highway onto side streets or alleyways.
“With the access closures you’ve proposed I count about 20 businesses that will be negatively impacted by a loss of access to their parking,” Access Montana owner Jay Preston told the designers. “Ronan Dental is losing an access right in front of his door next to the alley ... it doesn’t make a particle of sense to me. A lot of it is things that seem to be nonsensical. If the goal is to get traffic through town without allowing them to pull into businesses then why don’t you just bypass the whole town and get it over with?”
Jerry McElderry of Spiritchaser Gifts was also concerned about the access the proposed plan would take away from his home and business.
“The problem is that I own a home on Eisenhower,” McElderry said. “You’re telling me your going to do away with the driving access into my garage. Then you’re telling me you are doing away with access on Eisenhower that goes into my gift shop. Then you are telling me that there is going to be a stoplight there. At my age and at this point in time I don’t want to deal with cars that are stopped there on a near-constant basis (spouting) carbon monoxide.”
KLJ Engineering Designer Kathy Harris said some of the loss of access control may be inconvenient, but that the new design would make the roadway much safer.
Putting stoplights in at Eisenhower and other locations will reduce crash risks by more than half, Harris explained. Other safety factors were weighed when creating the design, she said.
“You don’t want to have driveways everywhere so the highway can’t function,” Harris said.
There is also opportunity for landowners to have input in the process before it is finalized, though the initiation of those steps are many months and possibly years away, Harris said.
Land acquisition and access negotiations will not likely begin to take place until January 2016, and is expected to take up to two years. The project was originally slated for construction in 2018, but because of delays it is more likely to have a 2019 start date, Harris said.
The intent in design has been to create a roadway that is as safe as possible while preserving the town’s viability.
“It is balancing safety and maintaining mobility on that highway,” Harris said.
Previous plans for the new roadway included a four-lane highway that would have wiped out businesses on one entire side of Highway 93, but that was deemed unacceptable, Harris said.
Members of the city council said they decided in 2008 to keep the highway running through town so it would keep potential customers in the area, instead of bypassing Ronan entirely. The council was also adamant about having an access control meeting for the public to meet with designers.
“We wanted to have this type of meeting now,” City Councilmember Hardy said. “We wanted to do it now instead of waiting six or seven months when they drew this all up so it is set in stone.”
City Councilmember Roger Romero reminded citizens that they can have input in highway plans by attending city council meetings that are scheduled for the first and third Monday of every month.