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U.S. 93 can’t safely handle Lakeside development

by Lana Batts
| July 5, 2022 12:00 AM

I vigorously oppose granting highway access to the proposed amusement area at 6808 U.S. 93 north of Lakeside because it is unsafe and will add to an already congested area.

U.S. 93 is the MDT recommended preferred truck route between Kalispell and Polson. In fact, according to the 2011 US 93 Polson Corridor Study, truck traffic was 11% of the total traffic count compared to 7% for other Montana rural Non-Interstate primary highways.

It is estimated that 80 cars per hour will be entering and exiting the coaster park area.

It takes an 80,000 pound tractor trailer almost 500 feet to come to a complete stop on dry pavement at 50 mph (the posted speed limit).

The shoulders at this location in both directions do not provide a “shoulder lane” that is 12 or more feet, per Department of Transportation Federal HIghway Administration (FHWA) recommendations.

That section of roadway does not have a left turn lane for north bound traffic. Instead, it is bordered by a guardrail, that is less than 6 feet from the shoulder line.

South bound traffic also does not have right turn lane and the shoulders again are less than the FHWA recommended 12 feet.

Consequently, one can only expect to see many more accidents because trucks (and cars) will have no escape lane as they come upon 80 fully stopped vehicles per hour unexpectedly turning into the amusement area.

Montana’s overall traffic fatality rate of 19.6 per 100 million miles traveled is already the fourth highest in the U.S. and 69% higher than the national level in 2020. The crash rate on U.S. 93 is already above average comparable rural routes for the state of Montana, according to the U.S. 93 Polson Corridor Study and testimony at the open forum in Lakeside in May.

Last week, there were two serious accidents on this section of U.S. 93 that blocked traffic in both lanes for almost an hour. Such traffic delays not only cost visitors aggravation and businesses money, but also significantly reduce the response rate for other safety, fire and law enforcement personnel. We do not need any more accidents.

Flathead County drivers drink too much. Flathead County already has the highest percentage of crashes, fatal crashes, and fatal and serious injury crashes of any county in Montana for drivers with a BAC over 0.079 (per MDT). We don’t need another distraction for already impaired drivers.

The Lakeside/Somers ambulance service is purely volunteer. Has the MDT and the County Commissioners taken into consideration the adverse impact additional accidents will have the already stretched volunteer ambulance group, especially in the summer when their calls go up 40%? The average drive time is about 25-30 minutes from Lakeside to Logan Health. If victims of a car accident at this site have to wait longer than the “golden hour” to receive medical attention because a volunteer EMT/paramedic or ambulance is unavailable (or on another call) and be transported to the hospital, additional lives will be lost.

The area is already congested. Montana led the nation in increase of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) since March 2019, increasing 13% between March 2019 and March 2021. This was the largest increase in VMT in the nation during that time (according to the National Transport Research Nonprofit).

Given the recent growth in Flathead County as the fastest growing county in the state (according to the Census Bureau), one can only assume that MVT is expanding even faster on U.S. 93 between Somers and Lakeside.

I live east of U.S. 93 on Caroline Point Road. I can attest that we have significant congestion on that section of road. At times during the summer, I’ve had to wait 10 minutes to safely turn left/south towards Lakeside. This is 10 times the ideal wait time for a red traffic light.

Before any permits are issued for the amusement area at 6808 U.S. 93 north of Lakeside, please conduct the needed MDT assessment, including Traffic Impact Study and a Signal Warrant Analysis from Polson to Somers. Montana Department of Transportation’s Mission calls for safe transportation. Let’s begin with U.S. 93 between Polson and Somers.

— Lana Batts, Lakeside

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