Montana Department of Transportation struggles with Kalispell’s growth

Posted at 2:50 PM, Apr 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-17 18:09:55-04

KALISPELL – After decades of waiting, in 2016 the anticipated bypass opened in Kalispell.

The new bypass was meant to reroute traffic from downtown Kalispell to make the city more walkable.

However, with over 20,000 cars that pass through downtown daily, Kalispell still has traffic and road issues.

Joe Unterreiner has been the President of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce for 20 years and sees how drastically Kalispell has changed.

“We’re now the third fastest micropolitan area in the United States for the second year in a row. So, we’re experiencing tremendous growth. With that comes the need for infrastructure improvements for highways and airports,” says Unterreiner.

Right now, Kalispell looks towards several improvement options. Currently, the city has four lanes which could be cut down to three. Another option is turning the four lanes into five lanes with a designated turning lane for traffic.

Ed Toavs with the department of transportation tells MTN News that he hopes the last construction phase of the bypass will help with the congestion.

Once completed, the last section of the bypass will extend from Airport road roundabout to Ashley Creek bridge.

But even with these improvements, Toavs worries with a 2% growth rate, 20 years from now the city will still struggle with its infrastructure.

“I think the way that projects for MDT are funded, that’s going to have to be looked at because right now our current funding model to do capital improvements in the Flathead, plus keep up with the system is not sustainable and we’re falling further and further behind every year,” says Toavs.

Toavs adds that while the bypass takes pressure off downtown for now, over time every roadway in Kalispell will see a dramatic increase in traffic.

Reporting by Maren Siu for MTN News