City completes North GF Transportation Study

The city is completing its study of transportation in the North Great Falls sub-region and presented the results to the city commission at its April 19 business meeting.

The study is a transportation planning project to develop a long-term plan for safe and efficient multimodal transportation solutions in the growing region north of Smelter Avenue NE and west of US Highway 87 .

[READ: The draft study and other information on the study]

The transportation study has been planned since at least 2015, when the city considered annexing the Thaniel Addition and a section of the West Ridge Subdivision.

The city commission approved the professional services agreement for $92,700 at a meeting in January 2020.

The study was funded with $82,700 by reimbursement from the Montana Department of Transportation, 86.5% from federal transportation planning funds, and 13.4% from MDT; and $10,000 paid from funds already contributed by developers of the West Ridge and Thaniel subdivisions.

North Great Falls Transportation Study Underway

DJ Clark, Sanderson Stewart’s consultant, provided the commissioners with the background and findings of the study.

He said the study looked at the existing transportation network and possible improvements for the expected growth in the area.

Clark said the area is commuter-based, with most people leaving in the morning and returning in the evening.

He said there weren’t many traffic jams or fatalities in the area, based on crash data from the Montana Department of Transportation and county traffic.

City Considering Great Falls North Side Traffic Study

The transportation network is efficient in this area due to congestion and accidents, but there are safety issues due to the terrain, such as visibility issues, especially on Skyline Drive.

Visibility causes a higher number of accidents than would be expected on these streets, Clark said.

Issues that were raised during the consultation and public meeting process included a perception of congestion on 36th Avenue NE; desire for a new east-west route; and empty in the sidewalks.

Clark said they used current conditions as a baseline and using the planned land development, they projected the future conditions of the area.

He said the city plans just under 900 homes, mostly single-family residential, in the area over the next 20 years.

These projected homes would cause 10 to 45 percent growth in car traffic, Clark said, but the study is multimodal and looks at other modes of transportation, such as pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Using these projections, the consultants made recommendations to improve the transportation network.

They looked at nine different street modification scenarios and tested them through the modeling process to see what would make a difference and from that they created a set of recommended improvements, which taken individually do not probably won’t work, Clark said.

One such recommended project is to disconnect Bootlegger Trail on US Highway 87 if there was a connection across northeast 43rd Street that could move traffic east to west.

Clark said many people who lived on Bootlegger north of the intersection were “horrified” by the idea.

Other recommendations included traffic control measures at the intersections of Skyline, Division, and 30th Avenue Northeast, and a potential roundabout at Skyline, 8th and 9th Streets Northeast, and 32nd Avenue Northeast.

Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planner, said they are talking to MDT about the intersection of Bootlegger and US87 and hope to do a study of that area to find solutions.

Finch told commissioners there is a long-term regional transportation plan that involves a planning process with the city, county and MDT.

Changing the long-term transportation plan on the March 15 city agenda

These updates to the plan are all presented to the commission. In March, commissioners approved an amendment to the current plan.

The Great Falls North Transportation Study also examines potential funding sources for transportation improvements.

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