Miller Creek Final Environmental Impact Statement Comments Sought

by jhwygirl

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking comments on its FEIS for its Preferred Alternative for road improvements for Miller Creek.

After years of meetings and engineering studies and statistics, the Preferred Alternative is what is there now -with some widened lanes. How many millions did they spend to come to that conclusion?

There’s all kinds of things to sort through that link above – even a nice map that shows 3 other alternatives, all three of which included a bridge over the Bitterroot which would provide an alternative route connection to Highway 93.

There’s also a 2-page document summary explaining why the Fed’s Preferred Alternative was selected. It really is just maintenance of the current situation – that being one entrance into and out of one of the fastest growing areas in Missoula County:

The Miller Creek area is situated in one of the fastest growing areas in Missoula County. Population growth is expected to continue into the future, and current development plans would result in approximately 3,000 dwelling units by 2025, thereby affecting the capacity, mobility, and safety of project area roads, including US 93 and Miller Creek Road. The existing primary roadway access to and from the project area is at capacity and traffic volumes are expected to increase over the next 20 years with expected full buildout of the Miller Creek area.

20 years? They expect to maintain safe access with all of the projected growth with one access point? Growth of which, to note, all people far and wide have grossly underestimated here in Montana. I mean – talk to any old timer and see if they thought Missoula would be booming out in Frenchtown and Lolo and whether Ravalli County would be what it is. Or Belgrade or Kalispell.

Wasn’t that the same story Missoulian’s heard with the new construction of Reserve Street? That it would last for 20 years?

And wasn’t Reserve Street from Mullan to Brooks outdated almost immediately after construction? Unable to handle the traffic loads? It can take 40 minutes to get from 3rd & Reserve to Mullan & Reserve nowadays. What is that? 2 miles?

Normally I’m not an advocate for bigger roads – but the situation that is there already there and coming (with preliminary approvals already in place) can’t be mitigated away.

I see this as a disaster waiting to happen. There is a huge amount of development up Miller Creek already – and significantly more to come. One way in, one way out. Backed up to huge amounts of timbered land. One fire station. How can the Feds choose the one alternative as Preferred that leaves the greatest risk out there for such a huge number of people?

Comments are being taken until April 14th. Comments should be mailed to:
Mr. Craig Genzlinger, P.E., Federal Highway Administration, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601

You can also email Mr. Genzlinger at

  1. The EIS notes that the preferred alternative, which adds a lane on Old Highway 93 and a timed signal at Old Highway 93 and Reserve Street as well as another lane from Briggs Court to Highway 93, is inferior for the purpose of emergency evacuation (and one other eventuality I believe).

    No bridge location was selected because no bridge location reduces the traffic congestion. Each potential bridge just dumps traffic onto Highway 93 earlier, snarling it at the same chokepoints. The preferred alternative is the only one that shows a reduction in the queuing on Highway 93.

    Maybe if you connected a southern bridge to a western bypass, you would reduce the traffic on Highway 93 during rush hour. I don’t think spending hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the congestion on Highway 93 is cost-effective or warranted.

    So the question becomes whether we should build a costly bridge, inducing demand as bigger road capacity always seems to, because of the possibility that we would need to completely evacuate Miller Creek during fire season. I guess that’s a debate we can have, keeping in mind that we will have sacrifice a terrific amount of money as a community in order to accommodate that neighborhood.

  2. jhwygirl

    Well, whew, there’s a relief – the EIS addressed the physical environment of the project as it is obligated to do.

    And in typical federal mumbo jumbo, it addresses it by telling us that the project doesn’t address the health, safety and welfare of the inhabitants of the impacted area.

    At least the insurance companies and homeowners (and perhaps even their surviving family members, God forbid) will know who to blame, I guess.

    The issue shouldn’t be – and isn’t – just congestion, Jason.

    These federal projects are tied to federal funding, as I am sure you know. By choosing this Preferred Alternative they are tying the local government hands – either accept it or we won’t do anything there. I know they wouldn’t likely pay for it all, but it really limits local government options, no?

    That is entirely unacceptable, or should be. They are required to address the issue – and saying it doesn’t solve the problem is one thing for some issues, I guess, but putting thousands of people at risk and tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of dollars worth of property at risk put the community at large at risk. What will happen to everyone’s insurance rates around here if a disaster hits up Miller Creek and it can’t be diverted?

    There are impacts, already, to insurance rates because of the fires of last summer. New homeowner policies were put on hold for a time here in Missoula County last summer.

    This is a much larger issue.

    Should a fire disaster hit in that area, all traffic will be forced out that one road. Highway 93 will be closed. If the situation were to mimic the day of the Frenchtown fire, winds could be at 70 mph for hours…you get the picture. Fire officials trying to get into the area in that mess? Ugh.

    Two ways in, two ways out – that far better increases chances of disaster management.

    Maybe someone up there in town could do a mock-up of evacuation timings for complete buildout? One road? Two roads?

  3. Jason Wiener

    On April 2, likely at 2 PM (the time won’t be set for sure until the committee schedule is set on March 24) FHWA will be presenting the Miller Creek EIS to the Public Works Committee of the City Council. I will ask them to be prepared to answer the evacuation questions and discuss how those elements fit into the decision-making.

    I’m not sure we won’t be making a fire disaster worse by inducing demand for more home-building with a second bridge. Perhaps there are ways to create a contingency for a second bridge in a true emergency, i.e. the National Guard deploying a temporary bridge at a location that would facilitate evacuation if something like that is necessary.

  4. Thanks Jason.

    I think that the feds are going to tell you that evacuation plans would be in the hands of the local officials – so perhaps the local officials should have that information for you beforehand? Perhaps a comparison of times for evacuation with one bridge v two?

    Keep in mind that a route also has to be maintained to facilitate emergency travel into the area.

    Thinking back to the Frenchtown fire, for an example, there was little notice of need to evacuate. The fire started and evacuation began relatively quickly afterwards. By nightfall, fences were being torn down in an effort to move livestock as mother nature hadn’t given enough time, and people were driving their trucks off the hill with fire chasing them with the 70 mph winds. It happened so fast that many didn’t even have time to get word of it to get home to remove anything. By the time they got to their roadways, they were already closed. Frenchtown isn’t that far from Missoula, either.

    So another question, regarding your second bridge scenario, would be (a) how much does it cost and where do you store it?, (b) how long would it take to drop into a pre-determined location?, (c) is there a clear route to get to said bridge and to get from said bridge to highway? What other things would be needed, bulldozed, etc?, and finally, (c) how long does said scenario take? Can it be done in a matter of hours, i.e., instantly put into action?

    Because mother nature dictates a fire situation far more than any amount of planning.

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