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LibbyMt.com > News > August 2006 > Swamp Creek Woes

Swamp Creek Woes
The Hwy 2 road improvement project that just can’t seem to happen
August 31, 2006

Since 1985. That is how long the Montana Department of Transportation has been working on the Swamp Creek project. And it has taken them by their own admission until the year 2000 to understand why it was named "Swamp Creek".

Just how much money has been spent on the Swamp Creek section of U.S. Highway 2 to date? "I don’t know. But to be honest it’s embarrassing," said Montana Department of Transportation’s Dwane Kailey.

County Commissioner Rita Windom has been trying to keep track. "As of 2004, $2.2 million dollars had been spent. And it is possible that much more has been spent since 2004," said Windom.

Lack of funding and geotechnical concerns have made it impossible for the state to complete the project in a timely manner. Now the Department of Transportation has divided the project into three smaller projects: Libby Creek South, Swamp Creek East, and North Mannike. Libby Creek South is tentatively scheduled for bidding in 2009. Swamp Creek East bidding is listed as "beyond 2009". That means the longest section, the most dangerous section, and the most costly section …$37 million…will be done last, and that will be sometime after 2009!

The current proposal calls for Mannike North to go to bid in January, 2007. A proposal that does not address the most dangerous section of the road way.

Since the last public meeting there have been design changes to the project. The paved driving surface will still be two, twelve-foot lanes. Paved shoulders will narrow from eight feet to four, providing a 32-foot top as opposed to the standard 40-foot top. A truck climbing lane has been dropped. These changes eliminate the need for retaining walls and haves reduced nine million dollars from the estimated cost. The current cost estimate for that 3.4 miles of Highway 2 alone is $6.4 million, and this past year saw a 20% cost inflation in construction costs.

Do these changes come at the price of safety to those using the highway? About 50 people discussed that issue at a meeting with project supervisors and design engineers. Even with these changes, Montana Department of Transportation feels they will be building a safe road. It is, in fact, the same design used on the section by Raven Work Center.

Public comment could bring back the eight-foot shoulders. And the passing lane. And the retaining walls. But funding issues would push the project into the very, very distant future. A fact repeated several times by highway department personnel that the choice is the road as currently designed, or a long, long wait.

We’ve been waiting since 1985.

Reluctantly, public officials and local residents agreed that the proposed construction was better and much safer than what we currently drive on, even if the plan is outdated by current highway design standards.

Public comments are being accepted until October 2nd. Comments may be emailed to Dwane Kailey at dkailey@mt.gov or Mark Studt at mstudt@mt.gov.

Story courtesy KLCB Libby News Radio, www.bestcountryaround.com.

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