MDT representatives attend Ronan meeting, address construction
RONAN — Representatives from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) attended the Ronan Chamber of Commerce meeting on June 1 to give updates on the construction on US Highway 93 and address concerns from the attending public.
John Schmidt, District Construction Engineer with the Missoula/Kalispell Montana Department of Transportation, shared in his presentation that paving on the highway would be underway in July, and that the estimated completion of the current portion of the highway would be completed in late August or early September. Chip sealing and striping will continue between Pablo and Polson for approximately another week, and maintenance work to smooth Round Butte will begin in mid-July.
The presentation of additional construction on Round Butte Road drew concern from several in attendance, as the back road is often used to circumvent the existing construction traffic. Schmidt explained that while the construction on the back road will overlap with the highway construction, the Round Butte Road work should only take about a week. The intersection between Round Butte Road and the highway will need construction as well, but Schmidt stated that construction would be on and off to keep traffic going as well as possible.
While tourist season is getting into full swing, Schmidt shared that MDT is using Big Sky Public Relations to help get the message out about construction and traffic expectations as frequently and widely as possible keeping travelers aware of the extra time needed to get where they’re heading. Updates may also include the best route to take when both the highway and backroads are being worked on. He shared his hope that the coordinated messaging might help mitigate some of the problems with the additional seasonal traffic.
Additional attending community members spoke up with their concerns. Small business owners impacted by the construction asked if there was a way to get monetary help for businesses losing money due to construction, or if there were avenues of support for people experiencing massive disruption.
“(MDT) can only spend money on things that are clearly lined out in the federal guidelines,” Schmidt explained. He went on to say he would reach out within the organization, possibly to the planning department, to try and find someone who could point concerned business owners in the right direction.
“If ever there’s a time for PP&E, now feels like the time for PP&E. This is a pretty massive disruption,” one attendee commented.
Eric Larson, owner of Stella’s Bakery and Deli, voiced his frustrations as his business has experienced significant impact and had business access blocked repeatedly by the construction contractors. With small businesses, Larson said, especially during tourist season, a big hit to income due to construction could spell the end for people.
Larson also explained that the issue ripples out from impacting small businesses as well. “We’re a huge Chamber supporter, but we’re not going to be able to do that this year,” Larson stated. With less support due to businesses struggling, he explained Chamber events would suffer, and a bad year could stop people from coming and participating in the next year. “(You’re) forgetting about the little guy. I can’t believe there isn’t something baked into these programs to help those struggling,” Larson commented.
“We’ve had this conversation (on finances) before, but we haven’t had it in several years,” Schmidt stated. “I will make a phone call, or several, to find someone who can either come to talk to this group of people, or who can provide some support.”
Schmidt also stated that issues such as contractors blocking business access or not maintaining road drivability during rain are issues that should not be happening, and he would get in touch with the contractors to remind them of these things.
Missoula District Administrator Bob Vossen, who was also in attendance, chimed in to explain that they had not intended to have so many construction projects underway in the area simultaneously. He explained that all the current projects are funded by different sources with different requirements they have to meet, and thanks to a “perfect storm of things not going as planned,” the projects have ended up stacked on top of each other.
“I have family with businesses here in Ronan,” Vossen commented. “We completely feel your pain and will do everything we can to support you.”
Those with questions or those who wish to receive the frequent email updates about the US 93 construction can do so by reaching out to Sloane at: firstname.lastname@example.org