Helena releases draft study on possible improvements around five-point intersections

Malfunction Junction at Montana and Lyndale.jpg
Posted at 4:57 PM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 18:33:40-05

HELENA — The city of Helena has been looking for a long-range plan on ways to improve several key traffic corridors – particularly at the two intersections known as “Malfunction Junctions.” Now, the city and consultant Robert Peccia and Associates have put together a draft traffic study, laying out possible upgrades the city could make over the next decade or longer.

The multimodal traffic study includes 16 potential projects on Last Chance Gulch, Helena Avenue, Lyndale Avenue and Montana Avenue. They’re aimed at improving safety and connectivity for drivers, walkers, cyclists and others.

On Last Chance Gulch, the draft study recommends maintaining one-way traffic between Neill Avenue and the Walking Mall. Some previous studies had suggested converting that section to two-way traffic, but the report says public input was against the change, partly because of the impact on businesses and parking. The study calls for smaller upgrades to the streetscape and sidewalks.

Mini-Malfunction Junction at Last Chance and Helena Ave
Mini-Malfunction Junction at Last Chance and Helena Ave

A bigger proposed change would be at “Mini-Malfunction Junction,” the intersection of Last Chance Gulch, Helena Avenue and Neill Avenue. The draft study recommends a roundabout, saying it would make the intersection more efficient, improve access and provide the opportunity to beautify the area. However, it says that would likely be a long-term goal – at least 10 years away.

Malfunction Junction at Montana and Lyndale.jpg
Malfunction Junction at Montana and Lyndale

Downtown business owners MTN spoke to said they are interested in the recommendations, but they still want to see more details.

A larger, two-lane roundabout is suggested for the other “Malfunction Junction,” at Montana, Lyndale and Helena Avenues. The study said that was the best option to make the intersection safer and better able to handle growing traffic numbers, while maintaining the connection to downtown through Helena Avenue and providing better access to the Midtowne-Sixth Ward area to the east.

Megan Malkin, owner of Mae & June Vintage Market in the Sixth Ward, said she has long wanted to see a change in the intersection.

“I think a roundabout would be incredible,” she said. “I think it would just definitely improve traffic flow and even just be a little prettier with some of the green space that they’re talking about bringing in.“

The draft study also suggests another long-term change: building an underpass on Montana Avenue, so traffic can continue under the railroad tracks, instead of having to stop at the crossing. In the shorter term, it calls for an improved pedestrian and bike crossing at Bozeman Street, so people using the Centennial Trail can get over Montana Avenue.

Other recommendations – likely to be implemented sooner – include improved pedestrian crossings on Lyndale Avenue and new bike lanes, sidewalks and other upgrades on Helena Avenue.

A link to the full 5-Point Intersection and Corridor Connections draft study is available here.

The city will hold two virtual informational meetings on the draft study on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 12 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Robert Peccia and Associates is also accepting public comment through Feb. 19. You can find out how to participate on the city website.

RPA will take the feedback they receive in the next few weeks and determine whether to make any changes to the draft before it is presented to the Helena City Commission for approval.

Malkin, who is a Helena native, says she’s cautiously optimistic about the draft recommendations, but that she knows there’s still a long way to go before any actual changes begin.

“I think it’s really great to see some renderings and some actual plans starting to materialize,” she said. “We’ll see if they happen, and hopefully they do.”