Housing assistance, proposed Forest Service projects, Highway 83 construction top discussion

Seeley Lake Community Council

SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council hosted presentations at its Feb. 14 meeting on a wide range of topics including landlord and rental assistance, upcoming United States Forest Service proposed projects and reconstructing Highway 83 around Salmon Lake.

Missoula County Landlord Liaison Alex Ramsing presented on his job and some of the classes and services Homeword offers to landlords, renters and homebuyers. Homeword is a Missoula-based nonprofit that works to strengthen Montana communities by teaching homebuyer education and financial skill building classes and creating safe and healthy homes people can afford.

Ramsing’s job was formed to help landlords or property manager rent to people with barriers such as low income.

Ramsing’s position is funded by Missoula County and due to the current rental market the Commissioners have instructed him to focus on eviction prevention. He does this by helping the landlord navigate resources for their renter or by helping find resources to keep renters in their homes. Ramsing does not act as a mediator between landlords and renters.

“I’m sure everyone [at the meeting] is very aware of the county-wide housing challenges that we are continuing to face over the last few years,” said Ramsing.

The county currently has a less than one percent vacancy rate that has been driven down by several factors including high home values and the COVID related moratorium on evictions.

For more information, Ramsing can be contacted at 406-532-4663 Ext. 29 or by email: alex@homeword.org

Seeley Lake District Ranger Quinn Carver gave his update on current projects and then gave the Council a preview of the Highway 83 North Seeley Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) project.

The proposed timber management would be done inside the Seeley Lake Wildfire Protection Zone along Highway 83 from the District boundary at the Summit to the town of Seeley Lake. The bulk of the work would be on the east side of the highway where the protection zone varies from one to two miles from highway.

The total project area is around 23,000 acres with 15,000 inside the WUI. Of that, treatments are proposed on 10,000 acres of the WUI.

A shaded fuel break would be done all along the highway for fire protection and also reducing the number of falling trees on the highway.

Fuels treatment around Rainy Lake and Lake Alva campgrounds are included in the project. Carver said the forest in those campgrounds is in really bad shape and “they’re going to get a pretty severe buzzcut.”

Further off the highway, treatments range from thinning younger stands in former Plum Creek lands to cutting beetle infested Douglas Fir and cutting and burning in areas where there is not enough timber to do a commercial sale.

Inside the project area there are 423 miles of roads. Some major roads have reroutes proposed and a lot of other roads like old jammer roads will be decommissioned.

Carver hopes to have the project out for public comment in the coming months and said he is optimistic that the work on the ground could begin in 2023.

Representatives from Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and design consultant HDR presented information on MDT’s reconstruction project along Salmon Lake. The project, now estimated to cost $27 million, will reconstruct approximately four miles of Highway 83 along the entire length of Salmon Lake.

The project will maintain the current 12-foot travel lanes and will add three-to four-foot shoulders to both sides. Other improvements included making the Woodworth Road intersection more perpendicular, flatter and wider ditches to better handle snow storage, drainage and rockfall and concrete barrier rails to help keep falling rocks off the roadway.

The majority of the work is scheduled for the summer of 2023 and it should be completed in the spring of 2024.

To learn more about the details of the project visit: https://www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/salmonlake

The following questions were asked at the Council meeting:

Have you considered using Woodworth Road as a detour during construction of the south end of the project? No, it will not be an official detour.

Will there be a center turn lane at Woodworth Road? Currently southbound traffic can exit Highway 83 significantly faster because the intersection is not perpendicular. No turn lane is planned because a traffic study on the intersection didn’t show enough traffic to justify the expense of adding one. Making the intersection perpendicular will make it easier to exit the highway from the south and make it safer for entering the highway by allowing drivers to look both ways easier.

What kind of delays can drivers expect? The plan is for contractors to maintain at least alternating one-way traffic and keep the delays to a maximum of 15 to 20 minutes. This all depends on traffic volume and how tight the roadway is where they are working.

What improvements can be made at Bus Richards Lane where private structures are so close to the highway? Trees and brush will be cleared from MDT’s highway right of way to allow better visibility.

Are you going to maintain the existing guardrails? They will be renewed and brought up to standard. The final locations of guardrails will be done during final design.

What will the speed limit be after the project is completed? The speed limit will stay the same as it is now because MDT does not have the authority to change it.

Will the project have any wildlife controls or crossings? No, but the wider shoulders and ditches should allow drivers to see wildlife earlier.

Will there be any passing zones? Once the road is completed sight distances will be measured and passing zones will then be considered. No turn lanes will be added so the existing pull-offs will be maintained for courteous drivers to use to allow people to pass them.

Is there any way to address the issue of having speed reductions during construction even when crews are not working? The contractor controls the work zones and MDT would have a hard time pushing back on speed zones if the contractor feels they need them.

Will construction continue over holidays, specifically the Fourth of July? There is an incentive in the contract for the contractor to be off the project by noon on the Friday ahead of three days weekends. They don’t want to contend with high traffic volumes any more than the drivers do.

Does this project include the main entrance of Double Arrow Ranch? No, this project stops at the north end of Salmon Lake. There is another project in the initial stages of development that is planned to do work between the Salmon Lake project and the town of Seeley Lake. More information on that project can be found at: https://www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/seeleylakesouth

Has MDT considered having the contractors work at night when there is less traffic? That is up to the contractor but it is more dangerous to work at night.

Who is the contractor on this project? Kiewit Corporation has the contract to the project. This project is somewhat unique because the contractor has been selected along with the design firm so that the contractor can provide constructability input into the design. For comparison, most projects are designed and then put out to bid.

How will information be communicated to the public during construction? Weekly scheduling meetings are held and that information will be published online and emailed out in updates to interested parties.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for March 14 at 6 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Historical Museum and Visitors Center.


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