Plan for highway contrary to Whitefish’s vision for downtown
In September 2019, the Montana Department of Transportation began a process to identify a concept for improvements to Highway 93 as the highway enters downtown Whitefish along Spokane Avenue and transects downtown along Second Street. We are members of that study’s steering committee, representing Whitefish residents and businesses. On several occasions, the steering committee members met with MDT, and their consultants Robert Peccia & Associates, but no consensus on a preferred concept has been reached. In fact, the community’s stated priorities of walkability, bike-ability, traffic reduction, tree canopy retention, and retaining historic character have been entirely disregarded by the study team.
We, the steering committee’s community representatives emphatically DO NOT endorse MDT’s “preferred concept” being rolled out to the public at an open house to be held Wednesday, Sept 22 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the O’Shaughnessy Center.
Mayor John Muhlfeld, who also sat on the steering committee, shares our concerns. In fact, the steering committee will not be participating in the event, but rather MDT and their consultants, the “study team” will be presenting MDT’s preferred concept.
Do not be fooled — their preferred concept is contrary to the adopted Whitefish Downtown Master Plan, and the stated preferences of the Whitefish public. It damages Whitefish’s pedestrian-friendly environment, destroys its small-town character, threatens its economic vitality, and will lead to increased traffic congestion.
A real solution will require complex and sophisticated expertise which is why we agreed to participate in this process, hoping the MDT would bring forward better solutions than they had in the past.
For this project, MDT would be applying for federal funds for an antiquated transportation model, in direct contradiction to the extensive planning processes of the City of Whitefish. The community is instead seeking an alternative 21st-century transportation solution on how a highway can coexist with the downtown of a small mountain community that depends on its “sense of place” for its economic vitality. Whitefish can and should be a model for how this can occur.
Since insight and input from the public and from the Steering Committee’s community representatives were entirely disregarded by the study team, and since no viable solution has been identified and approved by the Whitefish community, this process should not move forward.
If you attend the open house, please tell the Montana Department of Transportation: NO, we do not support their preferred concept.
Please send your comments directly to our City Council urging them to not move forward with MDT’s “preferred alternative.” City Council can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: P. O. Box 158, Whitefish MT 59937.
Ron Brunk is the Whitefish Park Board Chair and Rhonda Fitzgerald is a Heart of Whitefish Board Member.