By Michael Howell
What began as a morning coffee and chat session for several senior citizens in the Lone Rock area has become a vibrant and dynamic part of Lone Rock community affairs. Whether it is a proposal for a new school building, or a community center, or a proposed improvement project on the Eastside Highway, if it has the potential to affect the Lone rock community, this group attempts to educate itself and to get involved and make its voice heard.
They drew the interest of local legislative Representative Ed Greef, who attended a meeting at which the proposed Eastside Highway improvement project was discussed. That project includes replacing the Florence Bridge, widening the road surface and adding a pedestrian/bike path and the construction of a traffic roundabout at the intersection with Eight Mile Road. The reconstruction project would extend from Highway 93 in Florence across the river and as far as The Doll House on the Hurtt Ranch just south of the Eight Mile intersection. It is a two and a half mile long section of road.
Lone Rock resident Paul Hayes said that the senior group considered the Eastside Highway project significant for the community. But they are concerned that the state highway department considers work on primary highways a priority and that secondary highways, like the Eastside Highway, are often considered of low priority. Hayes said that the state is divided into three districts as far as highway funding is concerned and that Ravalli County competes with eight other counties for funds in our district.
“The Eastside Highway is a secondary highway,” said Hayes, “but it was used by 7,100 cars per day in 2011. There are lots of primary highways in the state that don’t get that much traffic.”
“We expressed our concerns to Representative Greef,” said Hayes, “and he arranged a meeting in Helena with Senator Fred Thomas and Department of Transportation officials.”
The group, which included Paul and Mary Hayes, Leon Logan, Ted and Beulah Brittenham, Richard Erickson, Tom Monaco and Rep. Greef, met with Senator Fred Thomas, MDT Director Mike Tooley, and MDT Administrator Dwane Kailey in Helena on February 14.
Richard Erickson said that they learned from MDT officials that the $10 million plus proposed reconstruction of 2.1 miles of road including the replacement of the Florence Bridge was ready to go except for two rights-of-way that are still under negotiation.
“If they could acquire those two rights-of-way,” said Erickson, “contracts for the work could be let by this spring.”
Hayes and Erickson said that they encouraged the department to move forward with the project
“It was a good meeting over all,” said Hayes. “We had time to talk and they listened.”