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Woodside Bridge

The narrow two-lane bridge over the Bitterroot River was built in 1954 and a safety and improvement project has been delayed. The Ravalli County Commission will ask the state to reduce the speed on a 1.4-mile section of the road that includes the bridge from 60 to 45 mph. 

The collective message brought to the Ravalli County Commission Tuesday morning about the Woodside Crossing Road was on point.

The 20 or so who gathered there told the commission they wanted drivers to slow down on the mile-and-half-long section of road where drivers can drive 60 mph.

“People were really adamant,” said Corvallis Civic Club President Allen Bjergo. “They said that someone was going to get killed.”

Ravalli County Commission Chair Jeff Burrows said the commission heard their concerns and agreed to send a letter to the Montana Department of Transportation asking for a speed reduction to 45 mph.

Following a speed study completed last year, the MDOT recommended reducing the speed from 60 mph to 55 mph on the section of road that runs from the intersection of U.S. Highway 93 about 1.4 miles east to the edge of Corvallis.

The study said the road originally was built in 1954 and improved in 2005. A typical section comprises two 12-foot-wide lanes with little or no surfaced shoulder area. The annual average daily traffic volume on the section of road is 4,300 vehicles.

There is a non-motorized trail along the north side of the road that terminates on both sides of the Bitterroot River. Pedestrians and bicyclists using the path are required to share the roadway on the bridge that crosses the river.

Plans for a pedestrian bridge across the river are currently on hold due to engineering and cost concerns.

The report said there had been 15 crashes on the section of the road between January 2015 and December 2017. One involved a collision between a motorcyclist and bicyclist. Another crash occurred when a school bus was stopped to unload a child and someone ran into the rear of a stopped car. Four vehicles were impacted.

The study opposed dropping the speed to 45 mph.

“A 45 mph speed limit as desired by some would be too far below the prevailing speeds to be realistic,” the study said. “We are just getting compliance in the existing 45 mph speed limit near the end of the zone approaching the community of Corvallis, so we would not expect to get a meaningful level of compliance over the length of the study area. Imposing an arbitrary restrictive speed limit would be counterproductive to safety.”

Two officials from the MDOT Missoula office did not return phone calls to the Ravalli Republic Tuesday.

Bjergo presented the commission with a map documenting the 23 driveways that line the stretch of road under consideration.

“People who live on those driveway told the commission their horror stories about almost getting run over trying to turn off the road, and the dead moose and deer they’ve found on their properties,’ Bjergo said. “A couple people mentioned the number of kids who hike, bike or do cross-country running along the road. Sometimes there are 200 kids a day using the path.”

Bjergo said the Woodside Bridge is the only bridge across the river between Florence and to Riverside where drivers are allowed to travel 60 mph. The speed limit on the other varies between 35 mph and 45 mph.

“The point I tried to make is that when you’re travelling 45 mph and a kid or a deer appears on the road, you have a chance to lift your foot off the accelerator and hit the brake,” he said. “When you’re traveling 60 mph, your foot doesn’t even come off the accelerator.”

“The commissioners heard from everyone and they seemed to take note,” Bjergo said. “It was a great turnout by ordinary people.”

Linda Habeck of the Ravalli Fish and Wildlife Association said she couldn’t understand why the speed limit wouldn’t be dropped, considering the amount of the traffic and the dangerous crossing for pedestrian and bicyclists presented by the narrow bridge.

“A lawsuit when someone gets killed shouldn’t be what brings about this change,” Habeck said.

Since the issue started being considered, Habeck said she’s made it a point to drive 45 mph over that 1.4-mile section of road.

“You would not believe how many people just fly past you,” she said. “I’ll admit it. I’m a speeder, but I also take a reading of traffic before I speed up. There are just times when you have to settle in and go with the traffic flow.

“In this world in which we live, sometimes it’s hard for me to understand the lack of common sense some people have,” Habeck said.

Burrows said the MDOT makes its recommendation based on the 85th percentile of what people are already traveling on a roadway.

“Even though the study shows something different, when you consider the bike and pedestrian path and the numbers of people walking on it, we think this is a case when the external influences on the road need to be considered,” Burrows said. “It seemed pretty unanimous in that meeting today. There were a lot of landowners and groups from Corvallis and they all were in favor of a reduction.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.