Jim Harmon

As locals know, there are only two seasons in Montana: Winter and Road Construction.

Well, the latter season is now underway and one of the recurring projects is the resurfacing U.S. Highway 93 between Lolo and Missoula.

I can’t count the number of times this stretch of highway has been built, rebuilt or resurfaced in the 40-plus years I’ve lived in the area. But it’s been a lot, and rightfully so.

It’s been the most heavily, or one of the most heavily, traveled highways in the state for decades.

As usual, we’ll be facing one-lane restrictions and reduced speeds. But the actual “work” will be done between “6:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. to maintain daytime traffic flow.”

The MDT news release says, “Planned work includes left-turn lane adjustments near Lolo, guardrail updates, sealing the shared-use path, new pavement markings, the addition of shoulder rumble strips, and a high-friction surface treatment.”

“It will extend the lifespan of the pavement while enhancing safety features for all travelers between Missoula and Lolo.”

These days it costs roughly a million dollars a mile for roads, a far cry from a century ago, when, according to the Wolf Point Herald, “$2,658,000 will be expended for federal aid and state highway construction and repair work in Montana.”

attachment-CLIPPING - $2M FOR ROADS

That’s right: The total to be spent for the whole state in 1924 would only pay for about 2.5 miles of roadway today. Of course, back then the majority of roads were gravel, not asphalt.

Let’s take a look at some of the contracts awarded in 1924.

“Huffine Lane, 2.93 miles of gravel surfacing and small bridges between Bozeman and Salesville at an estimated cost of $27,064.”

“Jocko River project, a 90-foot steel span on concrete abutments over the Jocko River in Lake County, at an estimated cost of $13,607.”

The cost to maintain the “800 miles of completed federal aid projects … including resurfacing, bridge repair and culvert repair” was estimated to cost $125 per mile.

Of course, with the majority of roads consisting of gravel, there was a tremendous dust problem.

attachment-DUST HEADLINE

In September 1924, a representative of the Sunburst Refining Company “appeared in court … voluntarily pleading guilty to speeding” during a test of their product.

The company man begged for leniency, explaining that there was a justifiable purpose for his speeding.

“Sunburst then produced the two (pictures) of an experiment made on oiled and un-oiled roads to show the advantage of oil-roads in keeping down dust.”


They explained, “In taking these pictures the car was run about 35 miles an hour on an ordinary dirt road which caused the cloud of dust shown in picture one.”

“Then, at the same speed, the automobile was run over an oiled road and picture number two was snapped just in the wake of the car as it passed, causing no dust.”


Lawyers for “Sunburst prayed the court's leniency on the ground that this experiment was carried on in connection with the very large amount of street oiling that has been done in Great Falls this summer, and its speeding was done in the cause of good roads.”

Judge Shepherd of the Great Falls Municipal Court dismissed the case.

Flash forward to today: If you want the latest updates on Highway 93 construction between Missoula and Lolo, “email becca@bigskypublicrelations.com. Or you can “call the project hotline Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 406-207-4484. To sign up for text messages, please text LOLOMISS at 41411.”

Meantime, “a separate study is taking place to identify additional solutions between Missoula and Florence.”

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at fuzzyfossil187@gmail.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.