Bypass roundabouts: get involved or drive on by

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There are a lot of moving parts in the Kalispell Bypass Project that aims to redesign the southernmost 1.5 miles of the U.S. Alternate Route around Kalispell. And, as it turns out, we may not be done with roundabouts on the south end.

What we do know is that the state Department of Transportation is on track to take out the bypass roundabout at Foy’s Lake Road and create an interchange with on and off ramps. That’s a done deal. Federal funding is in place and construction is expected to begin this fall.

However, today’s front-page article about the U.S. 93 bypass south roundabouts reveals there are several options on the table for the Airport Road roundabout, including an alternative that would create a “diamond interchange.” In this option, two roundabouts would be constructed on the north and south ends of a new overpass bridge over Airport Road. On the south end, the roundabout would feed on-and-off ramps to the bypass and Airport Road. On the north end, the roundabout would also create on-and-off ramps and connect to Cemetery Road.

Another idea for the Airport Road interchange is stop lights for ramps leading to the bypass. At first glance that idea seems counterintuitive to the idea of seamlessly flowing traffic on and off the bypass.

Several options also are under consideration for the Basecamp Drive intersection, also known as the Siderius interchange. Among the proposals are a plan to build two side streets with stop signs connecting separately from Basecamp Drive to the north and south-bound lanes of the bypass. The proposals include a “Compact Quad” option with two short side streets and an “Extended Quad” option with a longer northwest street connection.

Another option for Basecamp is a ramp with a stop sign on the north side of the bypass and a loop entrance on the southwest entry. This design would require the creation of tunnels underneath both ramps to accommodate the pedestrian and bike path along the highway.

Whatever designs are chosen for these two southern bypass intersections will impact the thousands of drivers who now prefer using the bypass to skirt around downtown Kalispell. If you want to have a voice in the process, it’s not too late.

Bob Vosen, district administrator for the Department of Transportation’s Missoula District, noted that the state is “really early in the feedback-gathering stage. We’re willing to look at all options.”

Vosen also stressed public input, safety and finances play into the final designs.

Given the feedback from other roundabout projects in the Kalispell area — including the roundabout planned at U.S. 2 and Springcreek and Dern roads, and one in the works at the intersection of Woodland Avenue, Second Street East and Conrad Drive — it’s safe to say not everyone is a fan of roundabouts. But they appear destined to become an integral part of our transportation infrastructure.

With the reconstruction of the southernmost bypass roundabouts still about four years away, there will be time to make your voice heard. The time is now, though, to speak up.

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