A graduate student working with the city to designate a route through town for the transportation of hazardous materials has presented a report recommending Reserve Street and Brooks Avenue the most practical routes.
The city has long considered developing a particular route for trucks that travel through town hauling dangerous materials, but post-9/11 security concerns gave the plan new momentum. Various non-profit groups have been lobbying local and state government about hazardous chemical issues, and the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee is now considering the route plan. “Designation of a route would not eliminate accidental spills, but it would allow emergency response crews ample time to contain a spill,” writes University of Montana Environmental Studies graduate student Brian Crawford in his report to the council. “A route designation would not allow hazardous materials transporters to move about Missoula in a random manner.”
The report notes that last year there were 3,216 truck accidents that involved hazardous material spills. After studying Missoula’s four entrance/exit points—Highway 93, Reserve Street, Orange Street, and Van Buren Street—Crawford recommends directing transporters through Reserve and Brooks for three reasons:
• Both routes provide two-lane travel.
• Although both routes go through some residential sections of town, “in case of an accidental spill, the hot zone would not initially affect as many Missoula residents and neighborhoods,” says Crawford. The report specifically compares Reserve and Brooks in this regard with Orange Street and Stephens Avenue, which would have a higher overall impact on residential areas.
• Emergency responders have easier and quicker access to both main arteries.
Crawford’s report also recommends increased communication between the city and the state Department of Transportation, as well as monitoring trucks carrying hazardous materials with Global Positioning System technology. Crawford also includes the suggestion of creating a drop-off point outside of Missoula where trucks could pass on their hazardous materials to trains, and therefore would not have to drive through town with the dangerous substances at all. Needless to say, Crawford puts this suggestion in a section of the report titled, “Perfect World Recommendations.”
The report also addresses rail safety. Crawford notes that national figures indicate a train derails every two weeks in the United States. Derailments caused 1,241 hazardous spills in the United States last year, and every year spills cause about 10,000 people to be evacuated from their homes. Crawford recommended that Montana Rail Link develop an emergency response plan and provide the city with regular track maintenance reports. The Missoula City Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee has been supportive of the plan, although some council members have raised concerns that designating a specific route might result in trucks becoming terrorist targets. Crawford’s report says that such concerns are genuine, if unlikely, but designating the routes is still valuable for emergency response reasons.