By Michael Howell
After listening to complaints from several people who live and work along the Eastside Highway near Stevensville, the County Commissioners agreed to send a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation requesting a speed study along a section of the road south of Stevensville.
The meeting was held at the request of Hans McPherson, who drives a lot of farm machinery on the highway. McPherson said that with no shoulder along the roadside that he has no room to pull over and let traffic pass. As a result traffic backs up behind him until someone, usually the third guy in line, he said, tries to pass, creating a dangerous situation.
Lane Hutchinson, manager of the Double Fork Ranch which borders the highway in the area, said that they get three to five insurance claims a year to fix fence after cars wreck it. He said two tractors have been hit by vehicles along that stretch of road in the last year.
Complaints were also made about the lack of double yellow lines in dangerous passing areas near commercial establishments and field access routes. The high number of deer in the area also presents a danger to drivers.
In short, McPherson asked the commissioners to lower the speed limit from the existing 65 miles per hour to something more like 50 mph.
Commission Chair J. R. Iman noted that it was a state highway.
“We don’t control the road, but we can request a speed study,” said Iman. He said the way the process works is that Montana Department of Transportation could conduct a study and record the current speeds being driven and possibly set the speed limit at the 85th percentile of measured speeds in the area. Examining the accident history on the road is also done as part of the speed study.
The commissioners agreed to send a letter to MDOT asking for a speed study on that section of the highway and mention their concerns with the lack of a shoulder along the road, uneven road edges, the heavy use by agricultural equipment, the high concentration of deer crossing, and the need for double yellow lines in front of commercial operations and at intersections.