Reducing congestion and improving safety are two of the top areas that folks say should be considered when planning for the future of transportation in Whitefish.
The City of Whitefish recently launched work on an update to its transportation plan aimed at providing a guide for future transportation demands and ways to improve current transportation both for vehicles and bicycles and pedestrians. The plan is expected to look at transportation out to 2040.
During virtual public input sessions last week, folks provided feedback on the current system and suggestions for improvement. In one session, most folks said that the current roadway network in Whitefish is not well connected and does not move traffic efficiently. However, most also said that the current level of traffic congestion during peak seasons is acceptable.
The city has contracted with KLJ Engineering to complete the update. The current transportation plan was adopted in 2010.
Wade Kline, project manager with KLJ, said the plan is expected to look at existing and future conditions, coordinate with other planning documents and provide solutions to meet future transportation demands.
Whitefish’s population growth has been at a rate of 3% over the past decade, which is on par with Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Flathead County. Looking at the current rate of growth is important for projecting future growth, Kline noted.
“With the kind of growth you’ve had the timing is appropriate for a transportation update,” Kline said. “This is an important dynamic particularly when we look at travel demand projections.”
The Montana Department of Transportation will create a travel demand model to be integrated into the plan showing what the future travel conditions are expected to be.
The updated transportation plan is set to include areas beyond the city limits, but will focus primarily on the core areas of the city.
“The study area has to be large enough that we can account not only for growth inside the city, but also outside,” Kline said. “Those areas outside of Whitefish still have an impact on the transportation plan.”
City Public Works Director Craig Workman said the city requires new developments to look at traffic and extend or improve roads in the city based upon the city’s transportation plan. He points out that an extension of Baker Avenue is part of the current plan, but development in that area hasn’t yet come to fruition to extend the road to the south.
City Long Range Planner Hilary Lindh noted that the 2010 plan led to the extension of Whitefish Avenue that’s nearly complete as private developments have come forward.
“Many of the street networks that we see now were included in the plan,” she said. “It is working, it just takes a long time because it’s based upon private development.”
In the updated plan, Kline says, there are five key areas to be focused on — corridor management, parking demand, active transportation such as safe routes to school, travel demand management and sustainability policy planning — some of which have been focused on in previous planning documents.
Under current conditions, Kline notes that areas along Baker Avenue and Highway 93 west of town are congested and Highway 93 through town and Montana 40 are considered even more congested, and those areas would likely worsen when considering travel demand out to 2040.
“We’ll look at are there new opportunities to add new capacity or connections to move traffic more fluidly around the community,” he said.
A safety analysis would also look at areas where crashes are concentrated and then ways those areas can be improved for safety. Data would also be studied to look at crashes related to bicycles and pedestrians. In addition, work is expected to look specifically for safety in school zones and what corridors should be a priority for moving children walking and biking to and from schools.
For bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the project would look at what systems are in place already.
“We’ll set a base, so hopefully it’s going up in the number of bicycle and pedestrian facilities that there are,” he said. “We want to look at future systems to fill in the gaps.”
The plan is expected to analyze public transit systems currently in place with the SNOW bus and Eagle Transit, and then look at what is needed for demand in the future.
The plan is being developed in two phases. The current phase will gather public input, look at existing conditions and then provide a summary of key issues and needs. The second phase, expected to take place in 2021, is set to build on the analysis and evaluation of issues.
More information on the plan and a survey related to the project is available through Nov. 6 at whitefish.transportationplan.net.