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Travelers get creative to bypass I-90 closure at Livingston

Road closure pic tanker.jpg
Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 01, 2023

LIVINGSTON — Travelers on I-90 in southern Montana weren't happy the last two days when a stretch between Big Timber and Livingston was closed for almost 24 hours. And it forced many on the western side of the closure to stay where they were, but some had to get creative.

Some sought shelter in area hotels, others turned around and headed back to where their trips began, and Josh Markovich got creative.

"Typically, it’s about a three-hour drive for me to get from where I live in Absarokee to Butte. It took me about five and a half hours to get over there. On my way back through, I would say we were probably a five and half hour drive from Butte just to get to Livingston," said Markovich on Wednesday.

Markovich was in Butte heading home, and he had to turn north from Livingston, through Harlowton and Lavina and back through Billings to get back to Absarokee.

"I lived in Butte, and I used to come back and forth between Billings and Butte every week and I’ve never seen the highway closed," added Markovich.

The highway reopened Wednesday after closing for nearly 24 hours. The closure isn't a decision that's taken lightly.

According to the Billings National Weather Service office, 2016 is the last time this stretch of I-90 was closed— two different times. The interstate closed on Sunday, Dec. 18 for an unknown period of time. Then on New Year's Eve, the 75-mile stretch from Livingston to Columbus was closed from 7:43 a.m. to 1:21 p.m., a tough end to the year, though not nearly as long as this week’s closure.

Authorities say the roads the past two days have looked more like an ice-skating rink than a highway.

"That snow and that blowing wind essentially turns the roadway into a sheet of glass almost. So, the roads become so icy that you can hardly walk on it, let alone drive on it," said Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler on Wednesday.

Dozens of crashes were reported before the shutdown, including an overturned tanker carrying asphalt oil.

But like in Big Timber, the interstate closure created other headaches in Livingston when many motorists were suddenly stuck.

"Town is definitely full but with mitigating the traffic on the interstate and trying to do that as best we can, it has made it so we can still function and move through town," Bichler added.

Even thought the road is now back open, authorities say travel is dangerous and not recommended.

"I would just encourage folks to leave themselves some time, be patient with other drivers, be respectful of each other and just be careful," Bichler said.