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Kalispell awarded $25M grant for West Reserve improvements

by ADRIAN KNOWLER
Daily Inter Lake | December 21, 2022 3:00 AM

A $25 million federal grant has been awarded to the city of Kalispell to assist with major improvements along notoriously congested West Reserve Drive.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced the funding that will come from the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, which was created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden in 2021.

Kalispell City Council approved submitting the grant application in May of 2022, citing large increases in traffic and congestion over the years along the corridor.

At Monday's Kalispell City Council meeting, City Manager Doug Russell celebrated the grant award, saying to the city's lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. as having "definitely paid off."

"This was a top priority in our transportation plan," said Russell. "It's nice to have [the project] in the books for construction."

According to the Department of Transportation, the project funding allows West Reserve Drive to be widened from three to five lanes, including a center turn lane for approximately 0.8 miles.

Plans also include reconstructing the Stillwater River bridge and widening it consistent with the roadway, including sidewalks on each side, and adding landscape boulevards with shared use paths and sidewalks for separated pedestrian and bicycle users.

Intersection improvements are also planned for Hutton Ranch Road and Whitefish Stage Road intersections, including dedicated turn lanes with signals; and constructing curbing and drainage work on Whitefish Stage Road. 

Russell said he anticipates preliminary work to be done in 2023, with construction starting 2024 and taking two years.

Once complete, the Department of Transportation expects the project will reduce congestion, and improve mobility in the community through the construction of the north and south side of West Reserve Drive.

The project will also address several safety concerns, including the high number of rear-end collisions in the project area, and will build pedestrian infrastructure where it is currently missing, the release continued.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, touted the announcement as a big win for Kalispell. Tester helped negotiate the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and was the only member of Montana's congressional delegation to support the law.

“A strong economy starts with safe and reliable infrastructure.” Tester said in a press release. “Top-notch roads, bridges and highways improve connectivity and prevent the supply chain disruptions that put a real hurt on working families and small business owners. I am proud to have secured this funding for the city of Kalispell to expand critical transportation infrastructure, boost the local economy and create good-paying Montana jobs – all while keeping folks in the community safe.”

Kalispell Chamber of Commerce President Lorraine Clarno shared in the excitement, and said she thinks the lane widening will serve the area's businesses and their customers, as well as improve safety.

Clarno called the project a "tremendous step in the right direction."

“The congestion at peak commute times has been very intense," Clarno continued. "The improvements are really going to improve the safety and this will lend to better flow and mobility through the area.”

In Montana, over the next five years Biden’s infrastructure law will invest $3.1 billion in roads and bridges, $158 million for public transportation, $43 million for electric vehicle charging, and $143 million for airports, according to the Department of Transportation.