Downtown Whitefish Highway Study
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is in the early phases of a project on US Highway 93 through the Whitefish downtown area. The goal of the project is to find ways to improve traffic flow and safety of the highway that align with local planning desires and maintain safe, efficient connections for pedestrians, cyclists, and large trucks.
The Whitefish community has experienced significant growth in last two decades and with it, rising traffic levels. Highway 93 runs through the center of the community and serves as the primary travel route through the city for residents, visitors, and other traffic. When backups occur on the Highway, the effects translate into delays and congestion on local cross streets, ultimately making it more difficult to travel through town. The city’s incomplete street grid further complicates the congested conditions.
In particular, intersection improvements are needed to better accommodate the increasing traffic, whether that’s pedestrian and cyclists or cars and large trucks. Possible options from past studies and plans include providing an alternate north-south route on Baker Avenue and bolstering existing east-west routes. Another is constructing a new bridge connection over the Whitefish River, although studies show this may be very costly. These, and other options, will be considered to determine a set of improvements that works best for all the community's needs.
Before a final solution can be selected and constructed, MDT must study the feasibility of all options for making improvements to Highway 93 and adjoining streets through downtown Whitefish. This includes assessing considerations such as the scope of work, cost and available funds, timing, and impacts and benefits for the community. The Downtown Whitefish Highway Study is currently scheduled for completion by the end of 2020. A final design and construction schedule will be determined following completion of the study.
Over the past several years, numerous design solutions have been proposed for the US 93 corridor through downtown Whitefish in various local planning documents.
- In 1994, MDT developed the U.S. Highway 93 Somers to Whitefish West Environmental Impact Statement in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration. The purpose of the study was to determine potential improvement options to reduce congestion on US 93, improve safety, accommodate planned growth and development, improve multimodal connections, and provide visual enhancements. The report identified a preferred alternative for Highway 93 through downtown. The preferred alternative included one-way northbound traffic on Spokane Avenue, one-way southbound traffic on Baker Avenue, and a new bridge across the Whitefish River at 7th Street.
- When design work began in 2005, three additional configurations were proposed due to changes in development, traffic, and other considerations. At the time, initial efforts were also underway on the Downtown Business District Master Plan, which resulted in the development of another design configuration for the corridor.
- In 2010, MDT and the City of Whitefish initiated work on the Whitefish Urban Corridor Study in tandem with the Whitefish Transportation Plan. The corridor study considered all previously proposed options for the corridor and ultimately presented two design options for further consideration. While both proposed options included two northbound and one southbound lane on Spokane Avenue and two southbound and one northbound lane on Baker Avenue, one included a new bridge across the Whitefish River at 7th Street while the other relied on 13th Street for east-west connectivity.
Through the current Downtown Whitefish Highway Study, project partners aim to analyze past design options and ultimately arrive at a solution that addresses safety and operational concerns for all users over the next 20 years. The project team will employ a variety of public involvement strategies to engage key stakeholders and the public in the planning process.