The Nashua Civic Center was the site for a Sept. 24 meeting between Nashua area residents, representatives from HDR Engineering of Billings and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) concerning the proposed construction of a railroad overpass in Nashua.
Paul Grant, the public involvement and meetings representative of MDT, introduced project engineer Tim Erickson of HDR Engineering, who gave a presentation of four options for the overpass.
Jeremy Miles, Lisa Fischer and Chris Kelley of HDR Engineering were also at the meeting. Representing the MDT were Shane Mintz and Jim Frank of Glendive, Steve Heidner, project engineer, Jacqueline Smith from the MDT office in Helena, and District 4 Transportation Commissioner Carol Lambert.
Those attending the meeting were given a form on which they could list their comments and return them to the MDT. The deadline for returning the forms is Friday, Oct. 11.
The meeting was recorded and a full transcript will be written.
Grant opened the meeting by stating that the name of the proposed overpass is Milk River North. He also stated that a second exit from U.S. 2 into Nashua will be part of the project.
Erickson began his presentation by stating that concerns about the trains blocking traffic through Nashua had come before the Nashua Town Council many times. In September of 2012, a straw poll indicated more votes in favor of than against an overpass. Following the poll, the council voted in favor to proceed.
On Dec. 17, 2012, MDT split the overpass from the project of improving state Highway 117 through Nashua.
HDR Engineering was hired early this year to design the overpass. The company worked with DJ&A Engineers in Glasgow, Utility Mapping Services, Inc. and Tetra Tech engineering services.
“This project is now at the public input stage,” said Erickson. “Next comes engineering and design. Tentative plans call for construction of the overpass in 2016.”
Points being considered in the design are alternative alignment, existing features, future traffic volume, a new intersection between Highway 117 and U.S. 2, Front Street connection, Nashua Boulevard connection, controlled stops and maintaining access to other roads.
The connection point on U.S. 2 would be near the Cemetery Road.
Under Option 1, East Alignment, the overpass would cross the railroad at a 90-degree angle. Pros listed were limited right-of-way required south of town, connecting U.S. 2 separately from the railroad, and maintaining full access to County Road. Cons were impact to irrigation, multiple curves and Front Street.
Option 2, East Alignment, pros were starting from the first curve of Milk River Bridge, Front Street, and a flat section. The cons were increased acquisition of right-of-way, irrigation impact and access to County Road.
Option 3, West Alignment, pros were reduced curves, Front Street and Nashua Boulevard connection, and state of Montana pros. Under cons, the connection to U.S. 2 would be closer to the railroad, full access to County Road would be eliminated, and irrigation impact.
Option 4, West Alignment, would move Highway 117. Pros for this option were reduced curves, reduced irrigation impact, and the Front Street and Nashua Boulevard connection. Cons were that the connection to U.S. 2 would be closer to the railroad, elimination of full access to County Road, and increased acquisition of right-of-way.
The meeting was then opened to questions and comments from the audience.
When asked about the cost of building an overpass, Erickson replied it would be $8 million to $9 million.
“A main concern is, the trains blocking the tracks makes it difficult for children to get to and from school,” said Bob Kirby. “Would having the overpass increase the blockage time?”
Erickson answered that this problem would be taken under consideration.
“Why do we have to cater to BN?” asked Bill Lauckner of north Nashua. “It’s their problem, not ours. An overpass will divert the buses from town. And the proposed design for one option will go through the old river channel.
“Is Hinsdale going to have to have a project too? The other day traffic was held up at the Hinsdale crossing for an hour. Why isn’t BN there?”
“Only BN can answer that,” said Erickson. “We appreciate your concern and know that there will still be some problems, even with an overpass.”
Another resident asked if an economic study had been done because that is very important as it affects everyone. Erickson said their firm does not plan to do one. A representative from MDT stated an economic analysis is not part of their process.
“I’m mostly concerned about the roadway through town,” said Allen Bunk. “What services will be available to get curbing, sidewalks, etc., because the current road would basically be abandoned. I’m also deeply concerned about the town’s infrastructure under Highway 117.”
Erickson replied that MDT has worked with the town on this problem.
A member of the audience stated that the train can’t block the crossing more than 20 minutes and that is exceeded now. The question was asked if the blockage would be longer because of the overpass.
Reduction of business in Nashua during the peak of vacation time was another concern that was voiced.
From the audience came the statement that the overpass is a bad idea because if traffic is pulled out of town the town will dry up.
“The highway through town is not maintained now,” stated a resident. “It’s been abandoned and all we’ve been given is a Band-Aid.”
Helen Heikens asked if the railroad line being built now would not help with the blockage of the crossing. Erickson said it was his understanding that the new line is for parking trains to uncouple and recouple cars.
“If there was some way to make BN follow the rules we wouldn’t have this problem,” Kirby stated.
Statistics on blockage of the crossing were given by Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier. In 2009, there were two calls about length of time the crossing was blocked, 2010 three calls, 2011 four calls, and in 2012, nine calls. The list of times an ambulance was blocked were five in 2009, three in 2010, six in 2011 and three in 2012.
Bob Hanson of Long Run Fire Department said that when they get a call that will require crossing the railroad tracks in Nashua, they call first to see where the trains are.
“To go an alternate route adds six minutes to our response time,” said Hanson. “Over the fourth of July there was a tremendous increase in the amount of emergency vehicles having to go through Nashua. A house fire doubles in size every eight minutes. So from the time the call comes in, the fire will be four times its original size.
“Building is starting at Kirkland Estates and Idlewild is expanding. If there’s an emergency south of Nashua, we come to Nashua on U.S. Highway 2, then go through Nashua.”
The audience was told that the current crossing in Nashua is not allowed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe to be upgraded.
It was noted by one audience member that the trains now are longer than they were in 2009 and train traffic has increased.
Jim Frank of MDT said that prior to discussion of the overpass, repair of Highway 117 through Nashua was being considered.
A MDT representative said that MDT has to have city council concurrence before bypassing a town.
Myrna Lauckner stated it took a long time to get turning lanes built for turning off U.S. 2 into Nashua, and wondered if there would be turning lanes into Nashua from the overpass. She was told the plan is to perpetuate turning lanes.
“When the town council started meetings about an overpass, they were advertised as they were supposed to be,” said Nashua Mayor Pat Hallett. “Most of the people who were at the first meeting were in favor of an overpass.”
The next steps in the overpass project are a floodplain analysis, noise study, environmental study and then the final design.
Those who did not attend can send their letters to Shane Mintz, Glendive District Administrator, MDT, P.O. Box 890, Glendive, MT 59330-0890. Include your name, physical address and email address. You can also fax your letter to 406-345-8250 or visit mdt.mt.gov/comment_form.shtml to submit comments.
Forms are also available at the B&B Grocery Store in Nashua.