We're still months away from any final plans, and funding could be even further in the future.

But engineers working with the Montana Department of Transportation are ready to share some of the initial findings and solutions for improving safety along Western Montana's busiest highway, U.S. 93 immediately south of Missoula.

It's all part of the effort to improve safety along the corridor between Florence and Missoula.

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Re-booting focus on 93

MDT conducted a study about possible improvements to the highway in 2008. But those ideas were shelved at the time because of concerns about having enough money to complete the project, and also how to make the improvements without a major disruption of traffic between Missoula and the Bitterroot.

Last year, spurred by increasing traffic counts and a rash of fatal accidents and public concern, MDT re-started analysis of the highway between Lolo and Florence. Last winter that was expanded to also include Highway 93 north between Lolo and Missoula.

The goals of the study are to find ways to enhance safety and plan for growth in the area while still improving the "travel experience" for drivers.

“This corridor is a high priority for the Missoula and greater Bitterroot Valley communities, as well as for MDT," MDT Missoula District Administrator Bob Vosen said. “Our study has been comprehensive and potential solutions that have come out of this are promising as we explore funding options.” 

MDT is analyzing several factors impacting Bitterroot traffic; MDT graphic
MDT is analyzing several factors impacting Bitterroot traffic; MDT graphic

Some early ideas for short-term improvements

Although the specifics are still being worked out, some of the initial ideas have included ways to make intersections, and turning traffic off the highway safer, improved lighting, and median treatments.

MDT spokeswoman Becca MacLean says there's also been a lot of interest in providing measures to keep cars from hitting wildlife. Similar "tunnels", or highway underpasses have been effective in cutting car and wildlife collisions in the Mission Valley.

Now, the study team is ready to present their initial findings in an in-person open house at the Common Room of the new Lolo School on Farm Lane on Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 pm.

A virtual event will also be via Zoom on November 30 at noon. Registration is required for the virtual event.

More work to be done

The corridor study will continue into this coming year, with the goal of having some specific recommendations by next summer that reflect the latest round of public input.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley