Viewpoint: Planning Board to ask Missoula County to consider Highway 93 traffic, safety

Clarification: The Missoula Consolidated Planning Board will consider sending this letter to the county at next week’s meeting. 

Given the tremendous growth and development occurring in the northern stretch of the Bitterroot Valley, the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board would like to call your attention to multiple safety concerns along US Highway 93, between Lolo and the county line North of Florence.

We believe these concerns represent a serious threat to the safety, health, and quality of life of the many residents who travel this route, often multiple times a day.

Significant yearly increases in total traffic are resulting in more cars competing for less space on the roadway. Many drivers use the left-hand lane as a driving lane and not just to pass. According to data available on the Montana Department of Transportation website, 252 total crashes have occurred on this section (between reference point 76 and 83) from 2016 to 2020.

Furthermore, the lack of a continual center lane or physical barrier means cars are traveling in opposite directions at a high rate of speed (70 mph speed limit) with only a few inches of double yellow line between them. Additionally, periodic left-hand turn lanes mean that cars are often stopped between traffic passing by them at 70 mph or greater on each side.

According to regional commute patterns cited in the Missoula Connect 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan nine percent (9%) of Missoula County jobs are filled by Ravalli County residents and seven percent (7%) of Ravalli County jobs are filled by Missoula County residents. This would indicate the highest amount of opposite two-way commuter traffic between Missoula and any other neighboring county (pg18 Missoula Connect 250 LRTP).

This section of Highway 93 bisects pastureland, hay fields and passes through a major wildlife migratory corridor between the Sapphire and Bitterroot mountains. As a result, the potential risk of collisions at night with elk, deer and other animals that inhabit the area is extremely high.

As the Bitterroot Valley rapidly develops, more people access the highway for their daily commute to Missoula for work, shopping, or leisure. Currently, on this stretch of road, access is only available from private driveways or collector roads such as Rowan Road, Chief Looking Glass, Carlton Creek, and a few others.

Drivers are forced to enter Highway 93 without a light, roundabout, on-ramp, or any other access facility besides a stop sign. Too many drivers are forced to turn left into private driveways without a dedicated turn lane. During certain times of day this can be nearly impossible and extremely dangerous.

Lastly, much of the traffic from the rural Bitterroot to Missoula and vice-versa is construction or agriculture related, which means large vehicles such as ever larger pick-up trucks, trailers, construction vehicles and farm equipment represent an above average percentage of total traffic.

In summary, we believe the number, size, two-way direction, and the rate of speed of the vehicles travelling this section of Highway 93 combined with limited safety infrastructure and no controlled access points presents a serious safety hazard. We urge you to seriously reflect on these concerns as you consider development and other issues located along this stretch of highway.