Custer Avenue in Helena

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) dove into understanding public opinion on the Custer Avenue Improvements project by conducting three focus groups and a phone poll to collect public feedback.


Four hundred live interviews among a sample of adults (18+) were conducted via landline or cellphone during August 2018 and the results are as follows:

  • 93 percent of those interviewed said they utilized their own car for transportation in Helena and stated lack of public transportation options and traffic congestion as the top two transportation-related issues facing the people in the City of Helena.
  • When interviewed regarding their public perception of MDT, 77 percent of the sample agreed with the statement: “I trust the Montana Department of Transportation to make decisions to provide efficient, safe transportation systems for Helena.”
  • The percentage of the sample that agreed with MDT’s involvement with projects in the City of Helena were significantly lower, but the vast majority of the sample agreed that MDT should gather public input and be responsive to ideas and concerns from the public prior to the development of construction plans, including directing the public to resources for finding answers to questions or concerns about MDT projects.
  • When interviewed about Custer Avenue, 39 percent of the sample responded that they traveled the road daily, and 37 percent traveled the road a few times per week. A majority of the sample stated that Custer Avenue is very congested and needs significant improvements.
  • When asked how congestion could be reduced on Custer Avenue, the sample ranked additional traffic lanes as their top pick, followed by improving intersections and stoplight timing. Widening Custer Avenue and building bicycle and pedestrian lanes came in third.

Focus Groups

Custer Avenue at Valley Green Meadow in Helena

Three focus groups were conducted in September 2018. Groups were placed into groups of residents, commuters and businesses. The groups were asked questions in order to elicit broad responses regarding opinions of MDT, traffic concerns and potential solutions for Custer Avenue.

The residents group consisted of three men and four women, ages 32-66. The group consensus for biggest traffic concern was congestion. When asked about potential ways to improve Custer Avenue, the group mentioned widening to five lanes, improving traffic light coordination and pedestrian crossings. The number one concern for the group is safety.

The commuter group consisted of three men and five women, ages 24-58. The group listed their top traffic concerns as congestion, along with difficulty entering Custer Avenue from intersecting streets (especially when turning left). When asked about potential ways to improve Custer Avenue, the group addressed a critical need for alternate routes to Custer Avenue, along with the addition of additional lanes on Custer. The commuter group felt that safety should be the top priority as improvements are made.

Custer Avenue at McHugh in Helena

The business group consisted of eight men and two women, ages 41 – 67. Top traffic concerns of the group are traffic impacts at the end of school days when children are attempting to cross Custer Avenue. Additionally, the group mentioned the lack of pedestrian facilities and entering Custer from intersecting streets. When asked about potential ways to improve Custer Avenue, the group addressed the need for additional lanes, including turn lanes.

The group also mentioned the need for a solution to the crowding of neighboring streets. The business group mentioned cost as a concern, but would like the project to be a 20-year solution. Much of the group would like to see pedestrian improvements made to protect both students and other pedestrians. Along with the commuter and resident groups, the business group listed safety as a priority.

Overall, none of the groups believed there to be a feasible detour for Custer Avenue, and an alternate route would be necessary for through traffic during Custer Avenue construction. All groups felt that significant changes to entrances, exits and buildings will need to be made in order to improve Custer Avenue. All groups expressed major concern for safe pedestrian and cyclist facilities as part of the eventual reconstruction. Lastly, noise buffers are recommended by each group in order to reduce traffic noise for residents and schools near Custer Avenue.