Public input sought on safety study of Highway 93 from Missoula to Florence | #schoolsaftey

LOLO — The stretch of U.S. Highway 93 from Missoula to Florence is known to be dangerous at times.

Now Robert Peccia and Associates (RPA), a civil engineering firm, is working with the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to make the highway safer.

They have been conducting a study — gathering data on the corridor from Missoula to Florence — and are seeking public input.

An open house was held on Wednesday, November 29, 2023, at Lolo School to hear residents’ ideas and solutions.

“People are just going way too fast and you add snow and ice on top of that and it’s a very dangerous situation.” Richelle Stillwagon has lived in the middle of the ‘S’ curves on Highway 93 between Lolo and Missoula. “Turning is very difficult. Trying to leave the house in the morning is very stressful because you can’t make a left-hand turn.”

Stillwagon has seen her fair share of incidents.

“Seems like in the snow some weeks [there will be] two a week. They’re not always fatal. I don’t know that they’re always reported, but there are people in the ditches all the time even if it’s not a distinct crash,” she explained.

It’s because of her experience — as well as the experiences of others who live and drive Highway 93 — that officials looking to improve the highway are seeking the public’s opinion.

“Our data, we were taking a look from the 2012 to the 2021 period — ten years of data, that’s just a snapshot and it was the most currently available data at that time. I think our board said over 1,000 total crashes occurred over that 10 year time span,” said U.S. 93 Missoula to Florence study project manager Sarah Nicolai. “We can take a snapshot of data and study the information that we have but it’s really important to hear from people that live and work in this corridor and drive it every single day.”

Steven Sevilla — who lives in that ‘S’ curves area north of Lolo — shared that, “Probably once a month we’ll see an accident between where I live and Blue Mountain Road.”

The biggest challenges for him are speed and a lack of visibility pulling out of Hayes Creek Road.

“Mixed with the increase in traffic flow and the high speed limits makes it really pretty sketchy trying to pull out with a low line of sight.” Sevilla said. He added he’s seen, “A lot of dead wildlife through there as well. We’ve had a bear hit there. We’ve had a lot of deer hit. Dogs, cats, and it’s just an ongoing concern.”

Mary Ann Bonjorni has lived on East Carlton Creek in Florence since 2015 and has driven U.S. 93 S since the late 80s. Over the years, she has seen, “An increase in use, higher speeds, and less tolerance for agricultural vehicles.”

Now, she doesn’t like to drive in the afternoons, “Due to a lack of safety, I try not to go on the highway after 3 p.m.” She believes that “they could drop the speed limit during peak hours down to 55 mph.”

Bonjorni also wishes that there would be a bigger barrier in between the two directions of moving traffic, “When they expanded [the highway] to four lanes, it’s unfortunate they didn’t leave more of the middle lane.”

Stillwagon and Sevilla attended Wednesday’s traffic study open house with improvements in mind for the ‘S’ curves.

“That would be a really great spot for a roundabout to help people to slow down through the ‘S’ curves,” Stillwagon detailed. “There’s already the existing structure there with [the] old truck stop that’s on the other side. So, there would be minimal changes that would have to happen to be able to widen that spot up and get people to slow down through that section.”

Sevilla echoed her statement, “It would be great to see the speed limit reduced through there or a roundabout or some other way to make traffic flow through there a little bit better so you’re not kind of caught.”

Bonjorni finds it’s also very difficult to turn onto the road from side streets.

“One is at some of the roads that feed into 93, you sit in a hole and you can’t see. You have a hard time merging left.” She hopes for stop-gap measures in the meantime while long term solutions are being created and implemented.

All want to see change and be heard by those in charge of the study.

The study team says changes will happen in accordance with how much funding they have.

“We’ll have another round of outreach next year as we come out with final recommendations from the study. At that point we’ll be explaining to people how their comments and feedback were considered in the study,” Nicolai explained.

The next round of outreach will be in the spring of 2024.

Comments, questions, and ideas are accepted via email at [email protected]. You are also welcome to call the study hotline Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 406-207-4484.

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