Friday, January 19, 2018

Making for Safer Passage on Shane Creek Road

Shane Creek Road residents are hoping the Stillwater County Commissioners can lend a helping hand with the purchase of $51,500 worth of guardrail to help make the heavily travelled road safer.
It’s not money that the residents are asking for, but rather a voice. Specifically, they are hoping that when the commissioners appear before the legislature this term they will ask lawmakers for financial help.
“We know the county doesn’t have that kind of money,” said resident Jack Putsche, adding that the legislature might be able to direct the county to some kind of grant or funding.

Safety & Health Issues
Shane Creek Road is one of the two most travelled access roads to Cooney State Park, with the second being through Boyd. Cooney received approximately 160,070 visitors last year, making it the third most visited state park, according to the Montana State Parks, which is a division of the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP).
The 8-mile stretch of road from Boyd to Cooney was paved 10 years ago in a joint effort of the FWP and Carbon County. The first three miles of Shane Creek Road in Stillwater County was paved with asphalt millings by the county years ago. The remaining 10-plus miles to Cooney is unpaved and there are sharp curves with steep drop-offs to a creek below.
According to a report written by resident Frank Repka, there are 35 homes that line the unpaved portion of road. Dust from heavy summer traffic is reportedly creating a respiratory health hazard for some of these residents.
Between 2002 and 2011 there were 32 motor vehicle accidents with 27 of those being single-vehicle accidents, according to DOT crash database statistics provided by the Montana Highway Patrol. Two of those involved fatalities, 15 were injury crashes resulting in nine incapacitating injuries, six non-incapacitating injuries and 16 property damage only, according to Repka’s report, titled “A Position Paper for Improved Access to Cooney State Park.”

Effort Toward Saftey
The push to improve Shane Creek Road began in 2012 when the majority of the approximately 35 residents banded together and expressed their safety concerns with dust and the narrow road in a meeting with the commissioners, the county road department, FWP and then state Rep. David Howard.
Shane Creek Road residents Jack Putsche and Frank Repka led the effort and had hoped to get help from the parks division of FWP. Repka said that despite assurances from that organization, nothing came to fruition.
The residents, along with the commissioners, appealed to the Cooney State Park 10-year Management Plan. FWP pointed the residents to the Montana Department of Transportation (DOT).
The next step was sending DOT “A Position Paper for Improved Access to Cooney State Park” written by Repka that cited health and safety concerns of residents, accidents statistics from the Montana Highway Patrol, plans to improve the safety of the current road surface and a proposal to improve the road.
DOT sent the report to a special in-house committee that specifically deals with special funds requests and provides such funds from state and federal resources.
The answer came back from that committee early this month and it was not what the residents had hoped for, said Putsche. The committee said the best it could do was provide signage funding in the amount of $1,500, but Putsche said the county has already done that. In fact, Putsche and Repka said the county has stepped up in a couple different ways since the push began in 2012.

County Improvements
The county has widened the gravel portion to provide for safe 2-way traffic and also assisted residents with dust abatement, which Putchse said has made a difference.
Additionally, the county established a 35 mph speed limit and has also agreed to widen problem corners if guardrail can be purchased. With the help of former County Road & Bridge Superintendent Calvin Clark, it was determined that 2,340 feet of guardrail would be needed for the four most dangerous curves. At $22 per foot, that totals $51,500.
DOT issued a press release recently seeking public comment on a proposal to install centerline striping, delineation and curve signing for about 4.2 miles of Shane Creek Road. That project is tentatively scheduled to start this year, “depending on completion of all project development activities and availability of funding,” according to the press release.