HELENA – On Wednesday, November 14th, the Montana Department of Transportation is holding an open house on the future Custer Avenue Improvement Project.
It’s chance for residents and other interested parties to share their thoughts on what future expansion of the roadway should include.
Despite what expansion of the roadway might look like, growth along Custer and the use of the road has been expanding significantly in recent years.
It’s always been a hub of activity with many homes, businesses and two schools. A major apartment complex was also built in the last several years and the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds has increased its presence, as well.
“The fairgrounds has gone from a place where we mostly had a few rodeos and things there throughout the year to over 300 events a year,” says Helena Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Cathy Burwell.
New businesses are also popping up. Clint and Mona Erb just opened the doors to the new location for their fitness equipment retail and service store: Better Body Fitness.
“We’ve been open for about a month and it’s been very busy,” says Mona. “Traffic has increased a ton since we’ve been here, lots of people are just coming in to see the new building. They’re excited to see progress being made down in this area.”
All of the increased development is bringing even more vehicles to an already busy street, creating a more urgent need for an updated roadway.
“It’s important not only to you and me in our day to day travels going back and forth, but more importantly, it’s important for emergency services to be able to make sure that fire truck or that ambulance or that police car can get to where they need,” says City of Helena Community Development Director Sharon Haugen.
She says there are a lot of factors to be considered when it comes to Custer’s expansion. And not all of them deal with vehicles.
“Hopefully the Custer project will include accommodations for bicyclists, non-motorized and other pedestrian,” says Haugen.
Also of consideration, says Chamber President Cathy Burwell, making sure that customers can continue to reach the area while construction takes place.
“It is very disruptive and so we work with those businesses, members or not, we work with all of them to try to make sure people know alternative routes and can still do business with them during a project,” explains Burwell.
For Mona and Clint Erb, it’s an exciting time. The process of getting their new building has been years in the making. They’re now looking forward to what comes next for Custer Avenue.
“Pretty impressed so far with the department of transportation’s efforts during that first planning meeting,” says Clint. “I think they’re (MDT) trying to be very transparent and get as much feedback as they can. What’s very, very important to us is of course, additional lanes, a turn lane, we just want to make sure it’s done well, done right, because it is a great neighborhood to be in.”
“They’re already started having conversations with the people who live and work on that corridor and trying to get them to understand how this is going to play out, some timelines and some alternative routes and that’s very important to the success of a corridor project is to make sure that there’s alternative routes,” adds Burwell.
The Custer Avenue Improvements open house, put on by Montana Department of Transportation, is November 14th from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at Capital High School.
Reporting by Melissa Jensen for MTN News