Spending on Grass Range round about is irresponsible

By: 
ED BUTCHER

A major issue facing the Montana Legislature is funding highways, which Governor Bullock has blocked the last two sessions when we had surplus money to spend. This year with oil, gas, and coal development being shut down, Montana tax revenue has declined. For the first time since 2003, Montana does not have a surplus, resulting in Gov. Bullock (who refuses to consider controlling government spending) proposing a ten cents increase in fuel taxes.
I served as chairman of the Senate Highway and Transportation Committee during my first term, and understand the transportation problems facing a rural state with extensive miles of highway. Consequently, it is important to review how the Bullock Administration is spending the millions of tax dollars from fuel taxes.
An example currently exists in Fergus County. Bullock’s Department of Transportation is demanding that over $3 million be spent constructing a totally unnecessary and dangerous “round about” turning maze in the middle of the high-speed, rural Highway 87/191 at the Grass Range junction. This is a typical “political boondoggle.”
Minnesota, after studying their round-about engineering, determined that round abouts should only be used in very special circumstances, and are proving dangerous in low traffic areas (especially rural areas) or in high traffic situations in which they actually inhibited traffic flow and were also dangerous -- the only situations where traffic flow was improved was in moderate, low speed, traffic areas. I understand Minnesota no longer wastes money constructing round-abouts on rural highways.
There are a half dozen roundabouts on the 45 mph Shiloh Road west of Billings which do an adequate job in that moderate traffic area, although I have personally had several near collisions with locals driving into the circles at high speed and carelessly making lane changes. In addition, I know a number of people pulling trailers who avoid those roundabouts whenever possible. I’m told one individual pulling a 24-foot gooseneck trailer encountered a carload of teenagers entering the roundabout at a high rate of speed which collided with his trailer.
The proposed Grass Range round about in the middle of this high-speed, low traffic rural highway is a totally inappropriate and irresponsible engineering decision. Picture a loaded semi with a trailer and pup sailing down this open highway and suddenly being confronted by a massive structure in the middle of the highway requiring the driver to maneuver through this traffic maze with a senior citizen pulling a horse trailer trying to figure out which turn lane he is supposed to be in!
Winnett and Grass Range residents need to attend the Jan. 18 public meeting in Lewistown to stop this dangerous waste of money.

Ed Butcher is a Winifred rancher and businessman, and former Montana legislator, retiring as state senator, during which time he was chairman of the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.

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