MDT hopes to limit Grass Range accidents with four-way stop

By: 
Deb HILL
News-Argus Managing Editor

A blinking light and new sign announce changes at the Grass Range intersection, which is now a four-way stop.
Photo by Deb Hill

Heads up, drivers passing through Grass Range. There’s a new four-way stop at the intersection of highways 87, 19 and 200.

According to Mike Tooley, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, the newly-installed stop for those travelling north/south on highways 87 and 19 is intended to improve safety at an intersection known for accidents.

“There is much work we can be doing across the state, but we are focused on that intersection because of its history,” Tooley told the News-Argus in a phone interview Thursday. “There was a crash at that intersection on May 2, with injuries, and another one on May 31, luckily without injuries.”

Now, with traffic coming to a stop on all sides of the intersection, Tooley said he hopes the number of crashes will go down substantially.

“We planned to put a roundabout there, but there were concerns from local residents about the cost and the design. The four-way stop is the quickest, cheapest alternative, and one that was suggested by our consultant,” Tooley said.

Whether it will work well enough or not is something MDT plans to assess.

“In recent years we’ve added rumble strips, a flashing light and oversized stop signs to that intersection, but there are still too many high speed right-angle collisions there,” Tooley said. “Our goal is to stop these collisions.”

The four-way stop is not an ideal solution, in Tooley’s opinion.

“Now everyone has to go to zero,” he pointed out. “On the south side there is potential for rear-end collisions if people are not expecting the vehicles in front of them to stop.”

Tooley said MDT’s engineers will assess the results of the four-way stop in terms of accident prevention, while legal experts look at the exposure to the State of Montana.

“Part of my job is to watch out for legal exposure for the state,” Tooley said. “What exposure does the state have if someone is killed after we did not put in the recommended roundabout?”

Tooley said legal experts will research examples across the U.S. as part of the review of the four-way stop option.

“We are looking at the high cost to build the roundabout versus the high cost of liability to the state if it is not built,” he said.

According to Tooley, the results of the four-way stop will continue to be reviewed through the “late fall.”

“We want to look at how effective this option is, and also see what the impact is to traffic flow. We don’t want to see vehicles backing up going north and south,” he said.

If the four-way stop does not perform well enough in terms of accident prevention, Tooley said the department is sensitive to the importance of agriculture in Fergus and Petroleum counties, and will not suggest any changes involving construction that will interfere with times of peak agricultural traffic.

“We have harvest coming up, and the last thing people need is big equipment working on that intersection or a mud bog all winter,” he said.

Construction of a roundabout might still be the right answer for the intersection, Tooley said. Although the project was pulled from this year’s construction calendar, it could be added back if the four-way stop option does not work well enough.

“This is a safety project, so it is a different category than other construction,” he said. “We move safety projects in and out all the time. We could move this project back in more easily as it already has the right of way acquisition work and design work finished. The construction cost of $1.9 million would be covered from the budget of another safety project that is not quite so ready to go.”

Tooley said the proposed roundabout had been designed with high and wide loads in mind.

“It is bigger than most roundabouts, to accommodate large loads,” he said.

Tooley said the department would like to hear from those using the intersection, and suggests public comments be sent to MDT’s Safety Engineer Roy Peterson, (406) 444-9252.

 

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