Chuck Erickson, president of the Bonner-Milltown Community Council, expects fireworks at the council's next meeting, in January. That's when the council will take up a topic that attracts controversy like few others: roundabouts.
As the Montana Department of Transportation assesses how best to ease congestion at the convergence of Highway 200, Old Highway 10 and the entrance to the Town Pump's massive Interstate 90 truck stop—an area Erickson calls the "gateway to our community"—the agency is exploring whether a roundabout makes more sense than a conventional traffic signal. "It's a viable option and it's being seriously considered," says Shane Stack, MDT's Missoula-based preconstruction engineer.
Stack says that MDT is considering closing the existing intersection of Old Highway 10 and Highway 200 and funneling that traffic east down a new road connecting with 1st Street, which would intersect with Highway 200 at a new signal or roundabout in front of Town Pump. He estimates the project will cost between $1 and $2 million, paid for by federal and state transportation funds.
The Montana Legislature passed a resolution in 2005 encouraging the construction of roundabouts instead of right-angle intersections, largely because of safety considerations. One Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that converting intersections from signals or stop signs to roundabouts reduced injury crashes by 80 percent and all crashes by 40 percent.
But such statistics may not be enough to sway residents of Bonner and Milltown.
"I don't really see a roundabout working there, with the big trucks that go in and out," Erickson says. "It would have to be one humongous roundabout... A lot of the people in the community really would just like to have a traffic light there with pedestrian crossings. A roundabout seems like a neat way to go, but we've got quite a few truck drivers who live out here and they're all rolling their eyes at that idea."
MDT and WGM Group engineers will discuss the options at the Bonner-Milltown Community Council on Monday, Jan. 9 at 7 p.m., at the Bonner School Library.