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State officials highlight possible traffic solution for alpine coaster project

by TAYLOR INMAN
Bigfork Eagle | January 11, 2023 12:00 AM

Montana Department of Transportation officials are selecting a shared use concept using agency land as a possible way to secure a highway approach permit for developers erecting an alpine coaster near Lakeside.

The developers, Jessica and Torsten Wedel, hold a temporary approach permit, which allows them to access the property from U.S. 93 as they await approval on a permanent solution. That process analyzes factors like intended property use and daily trip estimates to determine the best way to accommodate increases in traffic.

While approval — which comes at the end of what is known as a Systems Impact Action Process (SIAP) — remains outstanding, MDT spokesperson Megan Redmond said several aspects of the shared use approach made that option attractive. Those aspects include a reduction in conflict points by decreasing the amount of approaches in a short distance and increasing sight distance to the north.

Redmond said that information was relayed to the Wedels. They are gathering all necessary data and documentation regarding designs for this approach location and the mitigation required, she said.

During the SIAP review process, agency officials review plans and consider a wide range of variables regarding safe ingress and egress of Montana’s highways.

Traffic safety, particularly along that stretch of U.S. 93, has emerged as a key concern for neighbors opposed to the alpine coaster project. Upper West Shore Alliance Executive Director Janie Lewer said that when a final approach is decided upon and has MDT approval, the group may hire a traffic engineer to review it.

Developer Jessica Wedel previously has said they are working with MDT to make the approach and highway safe for all users, adding that “safety is our top priority.”

In an email to the community announcing the possible solution, MDT officials stressed their requirement to help provide safe access to the highway. Under Montana law, a landowner has a right to reasonable ingress and egress from the abutting highway.

Redmond said the agency’s employees “work extremely hard to provide the safest solutions for all travelers.”

Concerns regarding land use or development are not under MDT’s purview, she said, adding that those worried about land use, land development or zoning regulations should speak with the Flathead County Commissioners and/or their local planning boards.

The MDT also has received questions regarding the possible sale of the agency property that is adjacent to the development. This is another option that was previously under consideration to help facilitate the approval of the developer’s highway approach permit. It would provide the same purpose as the shared use approach, but the property would first go through a public auction process.

Redmond said the public can request to be added to a list for any public sale and any parties interested in purchasing the MDT parcel in Lakeside are welcome to contact her directly.

Once a parcel is prepared for auction, notices will be sent to the interest list and local media contacts while signage would go up on the property. These auctions can occur throughout the year and are scheduled based on the completion of all necessary approvals, appraisals and inspections.

Anyone interested in being added to a list to be notified of a public sale can reach out to Redmond at mredmond@mt.gov.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at tinman@dailyinterlake.com.