A draft impact statement for the Billings bypass project was presented to a packed house during a public hearing in Lockwood on Wednesday night, identifying a preferred alternative for the new roadway alignment.
Prepared by the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, the proposal outlined a “no-build” alternative and three alternative routes for a new road that would connect Interstate 90 and Old Highway 312.
“All of the alternative options meet both the purpose and the need, but we are looking at the most effective,” said Wendy Wallach, senior environmental planner and project manager.
The identified preferred alternative, known as the Mary Street option 2, would provide a five-mile connection across the Yellowstone River between I-90 and Old Highway 312.
The option would provide the best, most cost-effective opportunity as a long-term solution to meet the project’s purpose and need, minimizing impacts to the surrounding community, the draft EIS summary states.
The option would require moving two less houses than the Mary Street option 1 and costs less, by about $9.3 million. The environmental assessment was that the option also has the least anticipated impacts to wetlands.
The route would involve a bridge across the Yellowstone River, going north along Johnson Lane and Coulson Road, crossing the railroad tracks and continuing northwest across the Yellowstone River heading northwest and then curving southward toward the Mary Street corridor, with a new bridge crossing over Five Mile Creek. The route would parallel the north side of Mary Street, which would be used as a local access road for residents.
The alignment would include connections to the local street network at Bitterroot Drive, Hawthorne Lane and Bench Boulevard. The alignment would end at Old Highway 312 near its intersection with Mary Street, requiring the reconstruction of the existing intersection.
The cost for the new roadway alignment is estimated at $111 million, $23.3 million of which is “earmarked for the project,” Wallach said. “We have enough funding to build the first phase,” she said.
Before a record of decision can be issued, she continued, the additional funding must be finalized and in order to build the project must be fiscally-constrained with a long-range transportation plan.
Under the proposed preferred option, the statement said an estimated 13 residents would be required to move.
Tony Oostermeyer and his father, Bob, own about 33 acres on Mary Street. They said regardless of the option chosen, they will be impacted.
“Eminent domain — that’s what I feel like we’re up against,” Tony Oostermeyer said. “Smaller lots closer to town, I’m sure they’ve got their own concerns.”
Bob Medley, who lives on Drury Street, received a room-wide applause when he expressed concern about big trucks carrying hazardous waste through residential areas.
“I don’t think that we want that right in the middle of a residential area — I don’t think that Mary Street is a real good option,” Medley said.
Traffic consultant Bob Marvin, of Marvin and Associates, said of the daily traffic that would travel the route, approximately 600 of the vehicles would be trucks, of which 15 percent would be commercial interstate trucks.
But as far as hazardous waste, the engineering consulting company didn’t look specifically into trucks that carry hazardous materials, Marvin said.
“I believe the bypass was originally designed to reduce the amount of traffic, and now you want to drive it through a residential area,” another resident asked.
“Shouldn’t we be planning for the future instead of just today?” Medley asked.
Wallach said concerns of congestion at all intersections and roadways would be mitigated with traffic design, for today and tomorrow.
Several residents addressed noise assessments as well as planning for commercial development.
Wallach said all comments and concerns will be reviewed and considered for the final EIS. The final EIS is expected to be released this winter.