State eyes reclassification of Kalispell’s West Reserve Drive

May 5, 2019

Officials with the Montana Department of Transportation are looking into potentially redesignating West Reserve Drive from a state urban route to a state primary route - a switch up that could allow for more money to be allocated toward widening the busy road to five lanes and enable the road expansion to get underway much sooner.

According to Ed Toavs, Missoula District administrator for the Department of Transportation, West Reserve currently is designated a “minor arterial” within the state urban route system in the Kalispell area. The designation of urban areas is one based mostly on census information that identifies various population clusters and then determines which are considered urban and which are not, Toavs said.

However, an urban route system falls below many other systems in the state’s transportation hierarchy, including interstate highways, state primary and state secondary highways. Toavs said with West Reserve Drive already classified as a minor arterial, the road meets various qualifications to be considered part of the state primary system instead.

“It already qualifies to be designated as a state primary,” Toavs said. “If we can get it taken off the state urban system and put it on the state primary system, there is a greater pot of funding available for more immediate construction.”

With West Reserve’s standing classification as part of the urban area, the state can only pull from a pool of funds ranging from about 750,000 annually, Toavs explained. But the first phase of the long-sought transformation of West Reserve from two-lane to a five-lane road is estimated to cost as much as 20 million project into the red book and it will require two or three years of work, the question is what $20 million will be stalled elsewhere? When you have finite funding, what are you going to prioritize?” Toavs said.

Should the reclassification occur for West Reserve, state officials are not yet sure which other project would be placed on hold.

Toavs said reclassification begins when the Kalispell Technical Advisory Committee votes on whether to pursue it or not, which he said will most likely be unanimously approved soon. The committee also collaborates closely with Transportation Department Director Mike Tooley. Should the state decide to proceed with the reclassification, state officials will then work with local Flathead County officials on how to proceed with potential construction.

Toavs said one minor hiccup the department is anticipating is the need for a potential classification analysis to assure the road is actually a minor arterial. However, he said if an analysis is performed, he sees no reason why it wouldn’t classify as at least a minor arterial, if not a major arterial.

Toavs said he anticipates almost all stakeholders in the construction of West Reserve Drive, from the state and the county to the local residents, will be on board for the change.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com

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