Planning Board recommends approval of updated transportation plan



The Whitefish Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend changing the city’s growth policy by adopting the 2022 update to the Whitefish Transportation Plan. Whitefish Town Council will take up the draft plan next month to consider its final adoption.

The Transportation Plan serves as an update to the 2010 Whitefish Transportation Plan. It takes into account all modes of transportation, including car, walking, cycling and public transit, to create a consolidated vision of the future. It has a 20-year planning horizon and estimates growth to 2040.

According to the draft plan, growth in the study area has been significant since the adoption of the last transportation plan in 2010 and future growth is expected. The Whitefish Transportation Plan establishes a set of recommended goals, initiatives and projects to meet the projected needs of the Town of Whitefish through 2040.

“The three main categories of the transportation plan are vision, goals and strategies,” said Craig Workman, director of public works.

According to the city, the vision set out in the plan emphasizes the livability of Whitefish and the value it places on stewardship of the natural environment. It says, in part, that the city will support a multimodal transportation policy and works that conserve natural resources, promote walkability, and accommodate future growth.

Seven objectives and strategies are highlighted and described in the plan. They include improving public and environmental health, improving efficiency and reliability, and creating livable neighborhoods. The plan aims to preserve and manage key transportation corridors to meet a variety of current and future transportation demands.

The draft plan indicates that an analysis was conducted for two of the community’s major corridors: US Highway 93 (junction Montana 40 to 13th Street) and Wisconsin Avenue (Edgewood Place to Big Mountain Road). The objective of the analysis was to explore opportunities to improve safety, level of service, connectivity and access along the corridors and adjacent roads.

According to the project, existing traffic volumes along Highway 93 already exceed the threshold set in the Highway 93 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to require medians. He indicates that an urgent need is the extension of Baker Avenue to the south. The transportation plan includes concept plans for medians and intersection signage along Highway 93.

Due to the nature of the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor, there may be significant right-of-way and utility coordination needs associated with the recommended improvements. Drawings of the hallway plans are in draft and available online.

“(The transportation plan) outlines existing systems, including traffic volumes, traffic signals, collision analysis and non-motorized transportation plans,” Marissa Getts, co-ordinator of Whitefish Housing, said in her staff report. “The plan prioritizes goals and objectives for improving transportation in the future and provides a practical set of policies and tasks to achieve those goals.”

The list of recommended Major Highway System (MSN) improvements include the Whitefish Avenue extension to Shiloh/Lenna Joy Drive, the Baker Avenue extension, and the reconstruction of Kalispell Avenue. Many projects are listed in the plan which can be viewed online.

As part of the public engagement process for the transportation plan, three listening sessions were held in 2020 that provided information and gathered feedback.

“We did a social media campaign, primarily through Facebook,” Workman said. “We reached out to key stakeholders involving the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Heart of Whitefish and many business owners.”

The last open house was held in June and with the recommendation of the planning board, the project will be presented to council next month for final adoption.

“We’ve got $185 million worth of work and we’re only getting about $60 million over the next 20 years to get these projects done,” Workman said at the meeting.

He added that there may be more money, around $10 million, available from the expected tourist tax funds, but that still leaves a void.

“Karin (Senior Project Engineer Hilding) and I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few months reviewing some of the large federal grants available…and we will be applying for some of them,” Workman said.

Several Planning Board members thanked staff for their work on this document and voted to recommend approval of the Whitefish Transportation Plan Update. The plan is expected to be discussed at the city council meeting on Tuesday, September 6.

For more information on the updated transportation plan and to view it online, visit http://whitefish.transportationplan.net.

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