More than 25 attendees to the Jan. 9 TIGER grant open house held in the upstairs meeting room at Big Sky Medical Center received a wealth of information about changes coming to Big Sky via the MT 64/Lone Mountain Trail upgrade. PHOTO BY JANA BOUNDS

Hold on to your hats!

MT 64/Lone Mountain Trail improvements likely to begin this summer

The face of Big Sky is soon changing. 

It was over four years in the making and a complete long shot – but by this summer MT 64/Lone Mountain Trail is set to undergo the beginning of a dramatic $10.3 million facelift thanks to the Federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant. The funding is spurring a leap in infrastructure to address the projected growth. 

Big Sky is looking to a “tsunami of change in the next few years” if all goes according to plan according to Big Sky Chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss. 

“In three years the face of BS will look very different,” she said. 

If numbers are any indication: the next decade will mean an estimated $1 billion in development, according to Chamber data. 

Sanderson Stewart Engineering has projected that full build-out of area developments will equal 3,200 additional residential units. Traffic volume projections were reduced to account for lower occupancy from some of those units being vacation homes, resulting in an approximation of 1,100 new trips during peak morning hours and 1,600 new trips during peak evening hours. The average annual daily traffic volume on Lone Mountain Trail will swell to an estimated 18,000 vehicles per day in the next 20 years; that number currently hovers around 7,700 vehicles per day. 

‘“I don’t think the community has an appreciation of what is going to happen in the [coming] years,” attorney Mindy Cummings said. 

Around 25 community members attended the Big Sky TIGER Grant Project Public Meeting on Jan. 9 – with more meetings to come. The idea is to keep the community in the loop, Strauss said. 

The plan includes things like additional turn lanes at key intersections, a pedestrian trail, pedestrian crossings, busses, traffic signals or roundabouts at intersections with high traffic/accident rates, and is phased into short-term, mid-term and long-term projects. 

When the TIGER project construction is set to begin, the state of Montana will also be repairing bridge decks, Joey Staszcuk with Sanderson Stewart said. 

Big Sky representatives seeking the grant were told that only 6% of applicants get the funding, Big Sky Chamber CEO Candace Carr Strauss said. She regaled the story of how she, Big Sky Community Organization CEO Ciara Wolfe, Cummings and Big Sky Transportation District coordinator David Kack, who was the initial driving force behind the effort, were told by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines’ office that Big Sky had been awarded the grant – on April Fool’s Day. Emails, phone calls, excitement, disbelief, exchanges along the lines of, “Is this real? I think it might be real!” Then, in a rare moment, the entire Big Sky Chamber staff hit pause – and celebrated. 

“I don’t think we celebrate our victories enough here in Big Sky – because they are long fought and hard won. It is important to stop and celebrate our success,” Strauss said. 

When the request for proposal surfaced for the project, Sanderson Stewart, the company that had been contracted by Big Sky Chamber for the transportation study as well as Stahly Engineering that had been working closely with Big Sky Community Organization on its trails plan decided to join forces and are now working together on the design phase. 

Staszcuk said the design is currently 30% complete and will be 70% complete by Feb. 1, 90% complete by March 1, and should be ready for a spring bid. 

If this were a state project, the design process could take years, but because of the nature of the funding, everything is accelerated, he said. 

Strauss said that hopefully the project will begin this summer and the sequencing of the project will be determined by the contractor.  

The project stemming from the TIGER grant speaks to true community collaboration – between Big Sky Chamber, BSCO, Big Sky Community Transportation District and Madison and Gallatin Counties, she said.

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