Why is a new arterial being proposed?

Consideration of a new arterial is in response to long-range planning goals and objectives in the 2003 Great Falls Urban Area Transportation Plan and the 2003 Great Falls City-County Growth Policy. In addition, ongoing public input has indicated a need for an east/west arterial south of 10th Avenue South. These planning efforts and more detailed traffic analysis indicate that transportation facilities in the 10th Avenue South corridor and surrounding street network have high accident rates, poor level of service, and high volumes of truck traffic.

What is the Great Falls South Arterial Alignment Study?

The concept of a new south arterial has been the subject of numerous plans, studies and news articles since the late 1960s. However, in the following years local economic conditions didn't allow budgeting for right-of-way acquisition. Since that time, the arterial was incorporated in the 2000 Great Falls Transportation Plan and a feasibility study was completed in 2004. It was concluded in this feasibility study that a southern arterial would achieve the highest benefit/cost ratio. The City of Great Falls, in coordination with the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, initiated a route location study to develop and evaluate different alignment options for the arterial. The Great Falls South Arterial Alignment Study will follow an evaluation and public involvement process to ensure that there is a full and fair discussion of all significant social, economic, and environmental impacts before a specific set of alternatives are selected.

How does this study differ from the recently completed Feasibility Study?

The Feasibility Study evaluated engineering and economic feasibility of two 3-mile wide corridors, one north of Great Falls and one south. The Feasibility Study identified the southern corridor as best meeting the needs for the arterial route, while achieving a favorable benefit/cost ratio. The Feasibility Study recommended a more detailed evaluation of opportunities and constraints in the southern corridor, thus the Alignment Study will evaluate alignment options within the 3-mile wide southern corridor to identify an alignment or set of alignments to advance through the environmental process.

Has the feasibility of a Northern Bypass or North Arterial been considered?

A northern route was considered in the previous Feasibility Study and concluded that it would not yield sufficient transportation or economic benefits to justify construction. The conclusions and recommendations from the Feasibility Study indicated that the northern corridor would not satisfy the Federal Highway Administration's recommended guidelines for project feasibility because it failed to achieve an economic threshold benefit/cost ratio of 1.0 or better.

What is being proposed to address the identified problems?

The Alignment Study is intended to identify the most socially and economically effective east/west route while reducing environmental impacts. The proposed route(s) would extend from I-15 near the Gore Hill interchange on the west end, to US 87/89 near 57th Street on the east end. The layout and design of these different routes are intended to:

  • Improve an international and regional trade corridor.
  • Reduce congestion along 10th Avenue South and numerous other urban area arterial and collector streets.
  • Improve safety and mobility throughout the Great Falls transportation network.
  • Improve air quality by reducing congestion as well as stopping and idling times.
  • Provide additional Missouri River crossing essential for efficient emergency vehicle access.

Why not start the project further south and west of Great Falls near Ulm?

A primary goal for the corridor is improving internal access and safety within the Great Falls transportation area. Based on MDT travel demand modeling, the further south the route begins the less traffic the new roadway attracts. Additionally, the longer the road length, the greater the project cost. Beginning the new roadway at Ulm and extending to US 87/89 would add an estimated $54 million to the project cost based on an estimated cost per mile factor of $7.4 million.

Who is conducting this Study?

The study is being advanced through the Great Falls Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which includes representatives from the City of Great Falls, Cascade County, Great Falls Transit District, Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). A project management team with representatives from the City, County, MDT and FHWA is developing the study for review and acceptance through the MPO. HKM Engineering has been contracted by the MDT to conduct public involvement activities and resource agency coordination associated with the study.

What alternatives have been developed and studied?

Currently, a modeling software called Quantm is being utilized to help identify feasible alignment options. At this time, a single alignment has not been selected but various alignment options have been generated using the Quantm software. These preliminary alignments will be presented for public and resource agency input, then further refined before any final recommendations are developed.

What is Quantm?

Quantm is a route optimization software that considers engineering design standards as well as built and natural constraints in the area to develop and screen new roadway alignment options. The system simultaneously weighs factors such as impacts to homes and businesses, historic and cultural sites, and wetlands, as well as construction costs associated with topography and earthwork, structures, and paving. The system can generate thousands of alignment options to determine the most cost effective option falling within the defined constraints.

When will the project be built?

After the project has gone through the appropriate environmental review processes and approval, the project would be built in phases over a number of years based on funding availability.

Why is it taking so long?

A typical roadway improvement project can take anywhere from seven to ten years to go from planning, through environmental compliance, to final design and construction. It is not unusual for a project of this magnitude to take several years longer than the typical process. Community consensus and support regarding alignment options, along with creative funding partnerships may help expedite the development process.

How much would it cost, and is there federal money involved?

Preliminary estimates range from $100 million to $150 million. The ability to finance the continued development of the south arterial is a function of the availability of Federal, state, and local funds. Great Falls area officials and MDT will be exploring funding options and identifying responsibilities for the ultimate costs of project design, construction and maintenance of the facility. Support by the Great Falls community, businesses, local officials and decision-makers is key in pursuing federal funding for this project.

What are the next steps following completion of the Alignment Study?

If the alignment options developed during the Alignment Study are determined to have public, agency, and local political support, they can be advanced through a more formal environmental review. The environmental process would identify a Preferred Alternative. If one of the proposed alignments is identified as the Preferred Alternative, and a funding plan is in place to build the arterial or a segment of the arterial, then final project design can begin.