Crossing The Road

Heck-Quaw Elementary students walk across Broadway Avenue with the help of a crossing guard. 

Belgrade’s city street system could grow by six blocks, and City Hall could gain additional control over school-zone speed limits as the result of a pair of separate but related traffic studies in play.

The first part of the traffic puzzle involves a proposed speed study.

The Belgrade City Council at its Nov. 3 meeting approved a request for a speed study on North Broadway Street in the vicinity of Heck-Quaw Elementary School. Public Works Director Steve Klotz said the city’s request was sent to the Montana Highway Commission. That agency needs to approve the review because the school straddles a section of Broadway included in the state-managed urban route system.

Approval of a speed study is normally routine. After the state signs off, tubes to record vehicle speeds will be placed on Broadway. Transportation officials typically focus on the 80th percentile speed, Klotz said. He expects results of the speed study to come back in three to four months. With that information in hand, Belgrade officials will have facts as a basis for the speed limit they recommend on North Broadway.

The current speed limit there is 20 mph. City officials hope the 80th percentile speed is 15 mph because they have long wanted that as the speed limit near the school. The reduced speed will better protect students walking and playing in the area, they say.

The Highway Commission, however, cannot set speed limits below 20 mph on state highways without granting an exception – something the commission so far has refused to do.

Hence the second part of the puzzle: a proposed swap of streets and roads with the state, which would give the city the latitude to set its desired speed limit.

Since October 2015, the city has been negotiating with the state to have it take over the east-west Cameron Avenue connector. It runs from Broadway (by the Belgrade Senior Center) to the intersection with Dry Creek Road, going north, and Airway Boulevard, going south.

That spur road would become part of Belgrade’s urban road system. Klotz said the trade would entail negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Gallatin County for maintenance of the road.

In return, the six-block section of North Broadway would be removed from the urban road system in Belgrade. That would give the city council authority to set a 15 mph speed limit. The downside, however, is that Belgrade would lose state funding for maintenance of the street. Funds for the urban road system come from a statewide pot of money, with amounts allotted to cities based on their proportional mileage of urban routes.

Belgrade, though, already has assumed responsibility for one key aspect of road maintenance – snowplowing – on the full length of one state highway through the city. City snowplows operate on Madison Avenue, starting at the intersection with Jackrabbit Road, and continue along the full length of Broadway.

Klotz said that arrangement began last winter. In exchange, the state highway department handles pavement striping on some city streets.