Letter campaign proposed to prevent highway closure


By Kay Braddock 

          From emergency services and mail deliveries to work-related traffic, the closure of secondary highway 253 is expected to be inconvenient. It’s also likely to affect many local businesses that rely on the customer base drawn from the newly completely paved highway.

And it may just be an unnecessary closure, say Terry residents Larry Bond and Russell Schwartz. 
“We want to head this off now,” Bond told Prairie County commissioners during a 30-minute meeting Tuesday morning, noting he was on a “letter writing campaign” to get local organizations and individuals to address options to keep the highway open. “They’re going to come up with a plan and they’re going to shut the road down and if we don’t do something before that plan is developed we’re going to lose our road for however (long) - 30 to 60 days.”
Bond was referring to the proposed bridgework expected to be completed by 2012. Montana Department of Transportation officials met with Terry residents last month explaining details on the work, saying the highway would need to be closed during construction.  
Although construction of that type usually takes up to 3 months, MDOT officials suggested at the meeting the work could be completed within a month using rapid construction techniques.
Schwartz questioned that estimate.
“How many projects do you know that are ahead of schedule and on budget?” Schwartz asked commissioners.
During last month’s meeting, MDOT district administrator Ray Mengel explained that a 60-foot extension added to the south end of the bridge will prevent a continuing sloping problem. He expressed concern about the bridge’s condition if the repair wasn’t completed soon.
Bond, who attended the meeting, expressed frustration with the information given and not given. He cited the fact that MDOT officials knew nothing of a possible detour route along the O’Neill property and that the officials were unwilling to share information about daily highway traffic numbers.
Numbers stated at the commission meeting put the amount upwards to 200 vehicles a day traveling on highway 253. 
Schwartz suggested that although a detour along the O’Neill property may be one option, traffic control, maintenance and building up the road to meet minimum standards may not make it the best one.
He suggested another option could include building a detour that would connect the south end to a further point onto the bridge, avoiding the construction area. Traffic control expenses would likely increase with this option, Schwartz said and may be one reason why it is not being considered.
“There are projects where the traffic control can be 200 to 300 percent of what the actual work costs,” Schwartz said, adding, “That’s an acceptable part of the process, because the good of the public outweighs those costs.”
Using material already on site may help bring down construction costs, rather than hauling material in, Schwartz said, noting that may be one way the project could afford to spend more on traffic control expenses.
“These are types of things that the state needs to start hearing and thinking on – in my view,” Schwartz said. “But the danger is allowing the process to go to far, so it gets beyond the tipping point and it’s more costly to revise the documents than redo them.”
Commissioner Todd Devlin agreed that the closure would be “a detriment” to the community. The board subsequently agreed to draft a letter to MDOT expressing concerns regarding the highway’s closure and seeking answers to the viability of detour options suggested at the commission meeting.
Published Feb. 3, 2010

 
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