Montana DOT Rebuilds US 310 and US 212 Near the State Capitol
Vision Zero: The Rebuild of US 310 and US 212 Coincides with Montana DOT’s Program to Make the State’s Roadways Safer
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is rebuilding more than 10 miles of U.S. 310 and U.S. 212 in Billings to reduce accidents, reduce congestion, and improve safety.
“We are seeing increasing traffic loads,” says Bill Felton, Project Manager for MDT. “There is more commuter traffic coming into Billings for work. We have lots of vacation traffic.”
The project has been in the works for several years. The environmental impact report was completed in 2009.
Wyoming residents use the road to visit Billings for health care or shopping. Additionally, local residents, farmers, and ranchers use the road, creating potential conflicts between sightseeing and destination-oriented driving and speed of travel.
A Matter of Safety
About 7,500 vehicles travel on the road daily. MDT anticipates that number will increase to 10,150 by 2033. Summer traffic loads are higher. Local residents have expressed appreciation for reducing the traffic in front of their houses as accidents have occurred at driveways in the area. Truck traffic accidents are more than double the average for the state roadways.
The project will help achieve the state’s “Vision Zero” initiative, launched in 2014 by MDT Director Mike Tooley. The program aims at eliminating deaths and serious injuries on Montana’s highways. In addition to re-engineering roads, the state has produced an educational campaign.
“We have a really congested, dangerous road out there,” Felton says. “The shoulders are narrow. It was the right time. The funding came together, and the design work came together for it to be completed, hopefully, in 2020.”
After the first two phases were completed, the number of accidents on the road decreased.
DOWL of Billings, Montana, designed the entire 11-mile long project. The current third phase of the project costs about $24.5 million and contains the majority of the work. MDT used federal and state funds to complete the project.
“This is one of the larger projects we have taken on,” Felton says. “The scope of work is substantially larger than what we typically do, and the new alignment through the hills is a highlight of this project.”
A Multi-Phase Project
MDT divided the project into four phases. Throughout construction, the department has worked to keep the public informed.
The first phase, South of Laurel-RR Overpass, was completed in 2014. It entailed straightening the road, removing an abandoned narrow underpass below the BNSF railroad tracks and building two new four-lane bridges above the rail line south of Laurel. The project also increased the road to four lanes. Scarsella Brothers of Kent, Washington, received the $9.9 million contract for that phase.
The second phase reconstructed the intersection of U.S. 212 and U.S. 310 at the southern end of the project in Rockvale. Crews installed turn lanes, storm drains, overhead lighting, and flashing beacons. This project also added capacity. Nelcon of Kalispell, Montana, finished the $6.8 million project in 2015.
The third and current phase creates a new 10.5-mile U.S. 310 and U.S. 212 west of the current alignment onto a hilly region. In some places, the new and old roads are two to three miles away.
“We were bound on the existing highway by a couple of constraints – the railroad and a lot of houses,” Felton explains. “It made it impossible to stay in the existing zone.”
MDT purchased additional right of way for the new road, which will be two lanes in the middle and four lanes near the more urban areas. In some instances, ranches were cut in half. The department is adding 8-foot breakdown shoulders. The alignment was selected to reduce affects on existing homes, farms, and communities. MDT will maintain the current alignment for local access.
Phase four, will expand the two-lane sections of the divided highway to four lanes for the entire length. It is a gravel-and-paving project, as earthwork and drainage features were completed in phase three. It is expected to start in 2022, but it has not been funded yet.
Construction on Phase Three
Heavy highway contractor Nelcon of Kalispell received the phase three contract and began work on the new road in 2018. The family-owned and operated company was founded in 1981 and is licensed in 10 states.
Crews work from April 15 until November 15, due to the weather. About half of the paving was completed in 2018 and the balance this year, starting in April. Plans called for a big grand-opening celebration when the road opens this summer.
The job has required a large amount of earth moving, 2.2 million cubic yards. No significant environmental concerns existed, no wetlands, or endangered animals. “It is 100 percent new road through virgin country,” Felton says. “It was all through high and dry ground.”
Crews encountered some rock in areas, which could not be used for fill. Special borrow was hauled in to stabilize the new asphalt-paved road. Nelcon used GPS controlled dozers and graders. Surveyors also set the grades with GPS.
The new road ties into the existing roads, upgraded during the prior phases. During those tie ins, the department reduced speeds and the contractor had to deal with traffic. But during construction, traffic was not a problem, since it was a new alignment.
Now, with the road open, officials expect a decline in accidents and traffic for local residents, while those passing through on their way to and from Billings will experience a smoother ride with few distractions.