State Park Road reconstruction set to begin next year

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Work is expected to begin next summer on the reconstruction of State Park Road. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Construction is expected to begin next summer on the first phase of a major reconstruction of State Park Road.

The city of Whitefish is planning the project, which is expected to reconstruct and widen the existing roadway, and install a pedestrian path on one side of the road. In addition, the project calls for installing decorative street lights and a new storm drainage system.

Reconstruction is set to take place from Lion Mountain Loop Road near U.S. Highway 93 north to just before the BNSF railway railroad crossing. Phase I construction is set to begin July 2019 and includes the section of the road from Lion Mountain Loop Road to Haugen Heights Road. Phase II construction is scheduled for spring and fall of 2020 to run from Haugen Heights Road north to just before the railroad crossing.

The preliminary design for the road way calls for a road with curb and gutters at a width of 32 feet, along with a 6-foot boulevard on the west side and 8-foot path also on the west side. This design would shift vehicles driving on the road about 3 feet father away from homes than the current roadway.

Public Works Director Craig Workman said one of the highest priorities of the reconstruction is enhancements to driver and pedestrian safety that is expected to be realized through intersection improvements, roadway alignment changes and the addition of the path.

“By creating more of an urban feel to the road that will help calm traffic,” he said. “It’s a visual cue to drivers that a slower speed is warranted.”

City Council last week approved the design for the road. The cost of the entire project is estimated at $5.7 million. Resort tax funds are paying for the reconstruction, and the road is next on the city’s resort tax priority list.

Councilor Frank Sweeney took issue with the plan to install decorative street lights along State Park Road.

“Why do we insist on putting street lights in a place like this?” he asked. “I just don’t see the need. I think we should revisit our policy on this.”

Workman said city standards call for street lights on reconstruction projects such as this and the lights are important for lighting the pathways. He noted that the southern section of the road included in Phase I is adjacent to neighborhoods that already have street lights so the design would match, but the design for the northern section could be evaluated to make sure it makes sense for the part of the road that has a more rural feel.

The city has contracted with Robert Peccia & Associates for engineering services for the reconstruction. Brandon Theis, with Robert Peccia & Associates, presented the preliminary design and plans for the project earlier this month to about 40 people during a meeting at City Hall. More informational meetings are planned before the project begins.

“We’re recommending the path on the west side of the road because it increases the connectivity to the sidewalks in the residential neighborhoods and then those using it wouldn’t have to cross State Park Road to get on the path,” he said. “It’s about the safety, connectivity and we wouldn’t have to move the utilities, which saves time and money.”

Having the path on the west side of the road would also keep vehicles farther away from the homes than if the path was on the east side closest to Whitefish Lake Golf Course, he noted. A pedestrian crossing is proposed at the Lion Mountain Loop Road.

Theis suggested folks drive Colorado Avenue to get an idea of what the new State Park Road will look like once it’s finished.

Currently roadside ditches serve as stormwater collection for State Park Road. Under the new design those will be replaced by a stormwater system that will take water to a stormwater detention facility and treat it before it’s released into Whitefish Lake likely near State Park. Theis estimated that the roadway would be lowered by about a foot to assist with the collection of stormwater.

Street lights will be placed on the west side of the road in the boulevard near intersections and mid-block with spacing of about 200 feet. Lights will include shields to direct light away from the houses along State Park Road.

Engineering and design of the first phase on the southern most section is set for completion this winter so work can begin in July 2019. Minimal work is expected during peak traffic times of July and August, but engineers are planning to have major construction work completed in 90 days by closing a portion of the road and implementing traffic detours.

Theis said that reconstruction last summer of Somers Avenue was completed faster by closing the road, and that is also being targeted for this project as well.

“If we implement a detour and close part of the road we can get it done in 90 days instead of not closing the road, which would make the project last 150 days,” he said.

Detour routes would take traffic on different routes heading north or south through the adjacent neighborhoods of State Park Road during construction. Preliminary plans call for constructing the pathway area first to allow for owners who live in the section that will be closed to still have driving access to their homes.

“Traffic control is a huge part of this project,” Theis said. “There is a huge number of people that live there and have to get through while we work. Safety is one of our top concerns.”

Phase II construction on the northern section of the road and detours for that section are still being planned. However, preliminary plans call for major work to take place in spring and fall of 2020 with no work likely during July and August.

“For that phase, we wouldn’t shut down the road,” Theis said. “We will probably leave the road as gravel during July and August and give it back to the users. It would be built during the shoulder seasons.”

The engineering firm and city are collecting comments on the project to assist with the design. Additional public meeting are set to be held prior to construction.

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