What is the purpose of this project and why is it needed?
The following is a little info about the initiation of the Project, How and Why it was needed:
Purpose: Improve access and connectivity between Interstate 90 (I-90) and Old Highway 312 (Old Hwy 312) to improve mobility in the eastern area of Billings.
- Reduce physical barrier impacts to the transportation system. The rimrocks, the Yellowstone River, the railroad, and I-90 create barriers for north-south connections in the Billings area, which affect local traffic and regional traffic. Reduction of physical barrier impacts to transportation is one of the key transportation goals for the region as documented in the Billings Urban Area Long-Range Transportation Plan (2009 Update). Both I-90 and United States Highway 87 (US 87) cross the Yellowstone River near downtown Billings, and the next river crossing is over nine miles north at Huntley. The challenging topography in the Billings area coupled with limited connections across the river, the railroad tracks, and the interstate result in both local and regional north-south traffic being funneled through the US 87/Main Street corridor in the urban area of Billings.
- Improve connectivity between Lockwood and Billings. The segment of US 87 that crosses I-90 and the Yellowstone River serves as the only connection between Billings and Lockwood. The need for improved connectivity to Billings is documented in the Lockwood Community Plan (August 2006) and the Lockwood Transportation Study (November 2008).
- Improve mobility to and from Billings Heights. A survey completed for the Billings Heights Neighborhood Plan (2006) identified traffic issues as a key concern of residents, with one of the main traffic concerns being traveling to and from the Billings Heights neighborhood. This is also one of the key transportation issues for the region cited in the Billings Urban Area Long-Range Transportation Plan (2009 Update). The City of Billings Capital Improvement Plan (2006 – 2011) includes 16 projects that would address transportation issues in Billings Heights. Only one of these projects (the Billings Bypass EIS/Location Study) would address transportation system redundancy and mobility between Billings Heights and the interstate, which are limited by a lack of Yellowstone River crossings. Limited mobility to and from Billings Heights is also an issue affecting emergency response. Main Street is currently the only emergency route between downtown Billings and the Billings Heights neighborhood. Incidents affecting traffic operations on Main Street have been an impediment to emergency response, which is a concern expressed by the Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services Department.
- Improve truck/commercial vehicle access to and through Billings. In the 1990s, the City of Billings and Yellowstone County began to pursue federal funds to study options for improving conditions on the segment of the Camino-Real International Trade Corridor through Billings. After completion of the feasibility study in 2001, federal funds were appropriated for a bypass route connecting between I-90 and Montana State Highway 3 (MT 3) north of Billings. Although funding constraints prompted a reduction in the scope of the project, improved truck/commercial vehicle access to state highways and major facilities serving the Billings area is a need identified in the Billings Urban Area Long-Range Transportation Plan (2009 Update). The Billings Bypass project is intended to address that need, and the segment of this facility that would provide a connection between I-90 and Old Hwy 312 is included in the list of fiscally constrained long-range projects identified in the plan.
Why was this project initiated and why was it re-scoped?
The Billings North Bypass Feasibility Study, completed in 2001, investigated a bypass in the Billings area as part of the Camino-Real International trade corridor connecting Canada to Mexico. The study used a five-mile wide corridor north of Billings in order to assess the feasibility of a bypass route connecting the I-90/94 interchange area east of Billings with N-53 (MT 3) west of Billings. This study area was selected by a consultant team and approved by the project steering committee. The study concluded that a bypass was feasible from an economic and engineering perspective, and should be advanced for environmental analysis and refinement.
MDT in cooperation with the FHWA initiated the preparation of an EIS for a proposed bypass route north of Billings. The proposed project involved the development of a bypass route connecting the I-90/94 interchange area east of Billings with MT 3 northwest of Billings. Subsequently, the project team completed scoping, developed preliminary alternatives, and met with the general public twice to provide opportunities for input.
On July 17, 2008, FHWA provided MDT with guidance on the relationship between NEPA approvals and planning requirements, which were issued by FHWA on January 28, 2008. According to this guidance, a project must:
- meet air quality conformity regulations
- be consistent with the fiscally-constrained Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP)
- be consistent with the fiscally-constrained State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) to meet the new NEPA approval requirements and obtain a Record of Decision (ROD)
Based on this guidance, all project phases planned within the life of the MTP must be included in the “fiscally-constrained” MTP in order for FHWA to sign the ROD. As proposed, the Billings Bypass project did not have sufficient funding to be included in the “fiscally-constrained” Billings Urban Area Transportation Plan (2005). Therefore, FHWA reissued the Notice of Intent (NOI) for the above referenced project on September 7, 2010. The project is now proposed to improve access and connectivity between I-90 and Old Hwy 312 in the northeastern portion of the Billings area in Yellowstone County. The project study area is depicted in the following figure: