After years of discussion, and some delays, state engineers are finally ready to take the next step in rebuilding one of the most congested, and dangerous sections of U.S. Highway 93 left in Western Montana. 

That section is where 93 runs through what is known as the Ninepipe Corridor south of Ronan. And the Montana Department of Transportation is reaching the point where people can start commenting on the initial plans. 

MDT has been working on the 4.5-mile section of road between Gunlock Road and Brooke Lane, which is near the Ninepipe and Kicking Horse Reservoirs. The environmental work on the project was completed back in 2008. 

But taking the next steps is extremely complicated.

That's because there are multiple problems and challenges with the highway, not the least of which is the highway passing through extensive wetlands and wildlife corridors that will have to be protected as the highway is widened. That includes the protection of critical habitats for species including grizzly bears. 

Additionally, the road has gotten even busier, and more dangerous. This portion of 93 is one of the busiest, and last unimproved sections of the highway between the Canadian and Idaho border. There are also multiple approaches from side roads that present challenges in managing turning traffic. 

The newly-released feasibility study analyzes the preferred alternative and two modified concepts. The plans were developed in conjunction with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Federal Highway Administration, various resource agencies, and stakeholders. 

Three different designs

The three proposals use varying designs with bridges of different lengths to span the wetlands, and other features such as wider shoulders, turn lanes, and improvements for bike and pedestrian traffic. 

MDT is hosting an in-person open house at the Ninepipes Lodge Wednesday, January 11th from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. There will also be a virtual open house on January 12th from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm. Advanced registration is required.

MDT engineers say it could take some time to identify funding for the Ninepipe Corridor improvement. But the state says having plans finalized will help secure money for the project.

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