The Big Sky area could soon see construction on Lone Mountain Trail, MT Highway 64. A project years in the works and after multiple attempts to get Highway 64 funded, it is becoming reality through the TIGER grant and a private-public partnership.
“Something was going to have to be done if Big Sky was going to continue to develop in the way that it was,” said Scott MacFarlane, Gallatin County Commissioner.
As traffic grew on Lone Mountain Trail the need for improvements along the stretch of highway also grew.
“The community in Big Sky essentially needs this road to serve as its main street now,” MacFarlane said.
But money kept falling short—that is, until recently Gallatin County was able to secure the TIGER Grant. That still wasn't enough to cover the costs, but the Montana Department of Transportation helped secure another $2.1 million. That left them $1 million short. Madison and Gallatin Counties as well as the Big Sky Tax Resort were able to split the remaining $1 million.
Big Sky is an unincorporated community, meaning that it has no formal city government like Bozeman or Belgrade. Big Sky collects a 3% sales tax on luxury goods, one of a few communities in Montana to do so.
“We were able to get the county to submit it for us, and we were thrilled when we revived it,” says Sarah Blechta, Chair of Resort Tax.
Private partners like Lone Mountain Land Company were able to fund turn lanes along highway 64 separately, which reduced the amount of money that the public partners had to put in.
“We decided to put private dollars to work to build those turn lanes,” says Matt Kidd, Managing Director, CrossHarbor Capital and Lone Mountain Land Company.
“In order to meet safety, there were going to have turn lanes off of that highway,” says MacFarlane.
Lone Mountain Land Company is working on a workforce housing project along Highway 64; they decided to step in to pay for those turn lanes to benefit their project and the community.
“For us as a private partner in this, rather than having to encourage a reduced scope for the project, we decided to put private dollars to work to build those turn lanes,” says Kidd.
Since 2016 daily traffic counts on Highway 64 have grown. According to data from MDT, In 2016 the daily traffic count was 7,399 cars. The most recent data from 2020 has daily traffic counts at 9,132.
“For it being one way in and one way out for the most part, this TIGER grant is going to provide some much needed operational improvements,” said William Fogarty, Administrator, MDT Butte District.
For the folks at Big Sky Medical Center, their concern is the traffic that creeps into the property.
“People start cutting through the hospital here, and using this as a throughway,” said Taylor Rose, Director, Clinical Services and Operations at Big Sky Medical Center.
“[One Summer] this got backed up to where there was no way that an ambulance could get to the hospital. So I personally had to come out here and start telling cars to turn around and to leave, so we could get that cleared up for ambulances and emergency vehicles,” says Rose.
As construction is set to kick off in the summer, residents are ready.
“We’re going to see a lot of long lines this summer; however, it's really making sure that the community is safe, and that we are accessible to everybody,” Blechta said.
Construction is set to begin in the summer of 2022, and the project is expected to be completed in 3 years.