Evergreen should be focus of next highway project

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Kudos to our local representatives, friends, mayor, county commissions, state and federal representatives’ planners and engineers, in a Herculean effort to get our bypass in place. It has served its purpose well. I have used it on a regular basis myself, and I am more than pleased of what a convenience and time-saver it is.

It is even a bigger plus to me because I frequently use the bike path. The path is beautifully designed with moderate grades, slow curves, and best of all, it keeps a generous distance from traffic. Great job guys, now we can relax and move on to another high-prioritized project.

But wait, it appears that there is a design flaw, and we need a couple million dollars more to make it perfect. Sort of reminds me of the guy who buys the perfect pickup, only to find that he must have that nice set of chrome rims to make it complete. In the meantime, mama is in need of a new fridge. What to do? Is it the sweet chrome rims or a new fridge?

That’s what we have in the Flathead Valley. Should we spend a lot of money to tidy up the bypass or place our money and efforts in more deserving projects.

At least let’s start the wheels turning on a project that is long overdue, and more importantly, will get our children out of a potentially harmful situation.

I am speaking of the U.S. 2 corridor through Evergreen, or as old-timers call it, Lasalle from Reserve south to K-mart.

There is no bike path and only a short section or two of sidewalk. The speed limit is 45 mph (joke), and there is for all practical purposes, no shoulder through this section of highway. The shoulder that does exist is no more than 2 feet and is littered with highway debris, making it unusable for pedestrians and cyclists.

That leaves a ramshackle, dirt, unmarked trail that is littered with utility poles, guide wires, sign posts and mail boxes, for pedestrians to navigate. But let’s stop a minute and identify who most of these pedestrians are: it’s the kids who go back and forth to school (Evergreen Junior High), who are risking their lives twice a day just to get to school.

Meanwhile, 18-wheelers are roaring down the highway at 50 mph, just 2 feet from our kids.

Compare this trail to the luxurious pathway along the bypass. There is so much set-back from highway to bypass that Aaron Rogers (famous NFL quarterback) couldn’t hit a car with a rock.

Or, go west just a mile and check out the bike path along Whitefish Stage. This bike path was built to keep a healthy distance between Whitefish Stage and the kids going to school at Edgerton.

Evergreen kids deserve no less.

The Edgerton bike path is well-engineered with slow turns and nice landscaped berms to protect the kids going to school. Plus, there are angry flashing signs slowing traffic to 35 mph during school hours.

We need to look at these different scenarios and wonder why this dangerous corridor has gone on for so long without child safety being addressed.

I have spent quite a few hours talking to people who can make a difference, including state representatives, the highway department, mayor, commissioners and school officials. They have all agreed with me that the situation is dire and should be addressed ASAP.

But... the project is daunting, expensive and is not on anyone’s radar. There are a lot of naysayers who think it cannot be done, but all agree it needs to be done.

So I went to work to try to form a coalition of interested parties that could tackle such a huge project. The realization was that this is not your typical bike path that can be cobbled together with monthly meetings and bake sales to meet matching funds. No, this is not your neighborhood project — it is the responsibility of the state to see to it that our need for a state highway cutting through our community is attractive and safe.

Our same representatives that got the bypass done need to pull up their boot straps and get behind the project that will save lives. Please consider this project as a top priority in our area, instead of putting efforts and huge dollars improvements on old U.S. 2.

We can all get along just fine without these monstrous and frivolous projects. As an added incentive, all the communities in the valley are concerned with the attractiveness the corridors that introduce our community to visitors. A project of this scope, will make our corridor much more attractive to visitors, with new pavement, sidewalks and landscaping should dress up U.S. 2’s entrance into Kalispell. This could also add a piece of the puzzle linking Kalispell bike paths to Glacier bike paths.

Come on people, lets put our collective foot down, and demand that the safety of our kids, is the next and most immediate highway project to be considered.

— Stan Watkins lives in Kalispell

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