In response to concerns expressed by the Ravalli County Commissioners and the Stevensville Rural Fire District concerning traffic speeds on the Eastside Highway (Secondary 269) from Hamilton to Stevensville, especially in the area of Bell Crossing Road, Montana Department of Transportation conducted a speed study and recently released its recommendations.
In evaluating the special speed limit configuration south of Stevensville, MDT recommends extending both the 45 mph and 55 mph speed zones “to better align each zone to the outer reaches of the speed profile that defines each zones range of functional operation.” This will move the start of the 45 mph zone south of the intersection with Pine Hollow Road to a more desirable location in advance of the “Curve and Chevron” warning sign design and extend the 55 mph speed zone south to encompass the intersection with Higgins Lane.
For the remainder of the study segment included within Ravalli County’s request, the 65 mph speed limit is close to traffic operation. A “No Change” recommendation to perpetuate the 65 mph speed zone is a viable option.
“However, our position on the 65 mph speed limit is not unmovable,” it states in the report. “We did observe some variation in the speed profile taking place near intersections, an indicator of their contribution to operational characteristics. Both the crash experience and the enforcement data indicate the potential for multiple vehicle conflicts, separate from the nighttime animal involvement crash trend. Those characteristics distinguish Secondary 269 as having special operational characteristics uncommon to Montana’s overall rural secondary highway system.”
The southern most portion of the corridor (Hamilton to Corvallis) has a base line rural speed limit of 60 mph in place.
“From a continuity standpoint we are not opposed to a single 60 mph rural speed limit for Secondary 269 outside the transitional segments near communities. With the written support of Ravalli County we would carry a 60 mph speed limit recommendation forward to the Montana Transportation Commission for review and action,” states the report.
Secondary 269 was reconstructed under multiple projects, this segment having been last improved in 2012. Roadway typical section is comprised of two 12-foot travel lanes with minimal or no surfaced shoulder area. Design speed is 60 mph. The existing speed limit configuration is a 65 mph rural base line speed limit from Corvallis to Stevensville with reduced 55 mph and 45 mph speed limits in place for the change in operation associated with the outer fringes of Stevensville. MDT also noted a discrepancy in the sign placement between the posted 55 mph speed zone versus the previous Transportation Commission action, implemented in 2005.
The adjacent roadside and outlying areas along the study segment are rural small acreage parcels with some residences. There is an increase in both the adjacent and nearby development beginning at the intersection with Higgins Lane and continuing north into Stevensville. There are 17 intersections with local roads providing access to residential subdivisions in the outlying area. Traffic signal control was recently determined to be both warranted and justified to manage the 4-way intersection with Bell Crossing.
Average annual daily traffic volume is at its highest on each end of the study segment, ranging between approximately 4,400 at the intersection with North Birch Creek Road and 4,900 north of Bell Crossing. In the central area between Victor Crossing and Bell Crossing the volume drops to 2,400.
Crash history was reviewed for a three-year period from June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2020. Sixty-one crashes were reported within the study segment, thirty-one of which involved conflicts with animals (30 wild and one domestic). Almost all of the animal involvement crashes occurred at night.
Approximately two-thirds of the remaining crashes were also single vehicle in type. There were five right-angle crashes, three rear-end crashes and one sideswipe same-direction crash. Each of the multiple vehicle crashes involved its own set of circumstances with no definable trends pinpointing a correctible condition.
During the same period the Montana Highway Patrol reported 65 traffic stops and issued 88 citations. Thirteen of those citations involved speed limit violations.
MDT is looking for public comment on the travel plan and is planning to do road rehabilitation from Birch Creek Road north to the vicinity of Pine Hollow Road south of Stevensville.