MDT Followed Best Safety and Engineering Design Practices for Roberts Project

By 
By Rod Nelson
MDT Billings District Administrator
Thursday, March 26, 2020

Highway safety and increasing capacity are two of the main reasons why MDT has planned a series of projects along US Highway 212, referred to as the Red Lodge North Corridor Projects, from Boyd to Red Lodge. One of the projects, the Roberts Project, was started last summer. 

Before reconciling on a design for the Roberts Project, MDT looked at several factors in the area and conducted numerous meetings with stakeholders, in particular the Roberts Community Foundation and the Carbon County Commissioners. MDT took copious feedback from the Roberts community and incorporated many ideas into the project design, including a design solution to minimize historical flooding in the Roberts area. 

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation about the design of the Roberts Project has made its way into public discourse. MDT would like to take this opportunity to inform the residents of Roberts and the broader community utilizing US 212 about the reasons behind some key design components of the Roberts Project that we believe will clear up some confusion. 

 

Drainage Ditches and the Veterans Memorial Program

When MDT and the design firm met with the Roberts community, there were historical flooding issues that they wanted addressed. MDT undertook extensive efforts to devise a storm drainage system to minimize flooding potential in the community. These features became a critical and significant component of the final design. The ditch and culvert system designed with the project is, from an engineering perspective, the most effective and suitable way to help the Roberts community deter the detrimental and safety effects of a significant flood. 

However, the design was finalized before the Roberts community started its Veterans Memorial program, which entails displaying crosses on the east side of the highway to honor Roberts residents that served in the military. After meeting with the Roberts Improvements and Safety Committee (RISC) in early December of last year, MDT understood the importance of the memorials to the community and agreed to modify the drainage ditch on the east side of the highway through the town of Roberts by installing a drainage pipe between West Birch Street and Maple Street. The pipe will be covered to provide a relatively flat area for the memorials. 

 

Speed Limit

There also has been confusion over the speed limit through Roberts. The RISC has suggested that MDT wants to increase the speed limit to 45 MPH through Roberts. MDT does not set speed limits, the Montana Transportation Commission does this based on recommendations derived from speed studies conducted by MDT using nationally accepted practices. 45 MPH was the established speed limit before construction and it was reduced to 35 MPH for construction. Once construction is completed, the speed limit will go back to 45 MPH. When MDT met with RISC last December, we encouraged them to follow state statute by petitioning the Carbon County Commission to submit a speed study request to MDT. We understand that the Commissioners have made that request and MDT supports their effort. 

 

Two-Way Left Turn Lane

Another safety component upon which there is some disagreement is the inclusion of a two-way-left-turn-lane (TWLTL). Including a TWLTL was a primary safety design feature that was included in the project in accordance with best engineering practices. Customarily, consideration of a TWLTL is recommended by MDT where access density is 50 approaches per mile or greater. From the southern beginning of the TWLTL to Maple Street there are 35 approaches. That equates to a density of just over 60 approaches per mile, far exceeding the threshold of 50. 

Traffic volumes are another indicator for the consideration of a TWLTL. A TWLTL is desirable for roadways with a traffic volume of more than 5,000 vehicles per day. MDT projects have a 20-year design life and in design year 2039 the projected traffic on US 212 will be approximately 4,950 vehicles per day. This volume is very close to the 5,000 vehicles per day mentioned above and it further confirms that safety considerations dictate the inclusion of a TWLTL. 

The RISC has expressed concern that incorporating the TWLTL means less room on the shoulders. In actuality, the shoulders on the reconstructed roadway will be wider than they were on the original roadway. Before reconstruction, the roadway had a 28-foot-wide roadway with 12-foot through lanes and two-foot shoulders on both sides. The new roadway will have three lanes with 12-foot through lanes, a 12-foot TWLTL, a four-foot shoulder on the west side, and a six-foot shoulder on the east side, for a total width of 46 feet. A six-foot shoulder is used on the right side to provide additional space for pedestrians within the town limits since the community and the Carbon County Commission previously agreed against installing a sidewalk. 

 

Crosswalks and Signage

RISC has raised issues about the adequacy of crosswalks and signage for the Roberts Project. MDT completed a pedestrian study in 2013 and found that the two crosswalks included in the design plans – one 150 feet north of Maple Street near the Y-Stop and one on Oak Street – are the most appropriate. The RISC would like to see a third crosswalk at Cedar Street. The original 2013 pedestrian study showed that at Cedar Street no pedestrians were observed in the morning school-crossing period and only five in the late afternoon, evening. MDT has suggested completing a new study after construction is complete. 

 

MDT is going to install signage for horse and buggy in light of the recent influx of Amish families to the area. The wider shoulders and signage further improve safety for horse and buggies on the roadway.

 

Y-Stop and Cooney 

Dam Road

The RISC also has expressed concerns about the Y-Stop intersection improvements. These improvements were evaluated carefully and removal of the old Cooney Dam Road approach with US 212 and its relocation north of the Y-Stop were the preferred approach for a variety of reasons including safety. The prior intersection of Cooney Dam Road and US 212 formed an unsafe skewed alignment that limited sight distance for motorist trying to look to their left, requiring a strained turn of the neck. 

 

MDT has done everything in its power to engage the community in order to elicit their feedback on the Roberts Project. Many ideas were considered and ones that did not affect safety and flooding mitigation were incorporated. Ultimately, MDT has a responsibility to the broader traveling public to reconstruct a road that is safe, which requires strict attention to the best engineering practices. MDT has followed those practices faithfully and has been flexible about incorporating design solutions to accommodate a new cultural tradition in the Roberts community. 

 

We encourage stakeholders to visit the project website at www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/roberts/ for more information.

 

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

Fax: 406-446-2225

Toll-Free: 800-735-8843

Open: Monday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.