Community gets speed limit reduced on Montana 135

by Monte Turner
Mineral Independent | May 12, 2020 4:47 PM

How many times have you been entering St. Regis on Montana 135 and as you crest the hill the flashing sign reports you are going 50 or even 60 miles per hour?

The speed limit at that point is 40 mph coming from 55 just north of the Idaho Forest Group turnoff. This is a dangerous stretch of road because of the trucks entering and leaving IFG without having a turn lane.

It’s a designated wildlife corridor and that stretch has a bus stop and five white roadside crosses, signifying those whom have died there in traffic crashes.

Speeding is much more common in this area even with thorough patrolling by both the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and the Montana Highway Patrol.

The residents who live along it and those who live in The Peninsula had expressed their concerns.

Tricon Timber, at the time, was also worried for their employees and truck driver’s safety to the point that a special meeting was held a few years ago with the county commissioners which was standing room only.

A traffic study was agreed upon between the commissioners and the Montana Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operation Engineer Department. It was conducted through a summer season to make it as true of a study as possible with both tourists and local traffic.

The study illustrated 59% of the drivers were driving from 59-69 miles per hour in the 55-mph zone with a strong percentage driving 62-72 mph farther north near Tamarack Creek.

However, the news from Helena was disheartening when they denied new speed limits to the area the following year.

But, MDT’s Duane Kailey said at the disappointing meeting many attended to hear the outcome that the decision could be contested and that fired up the citizens.

All three county commissioners and Denley Loge, Montana House District 14 Representative, crafted a letter of discontent that wormed its way through the proper channels and went before the Montana Highway Commission.

April 29 the original decision was overturned.

“I am simply elated at the results of this request as it is a no-brainer. A speed limit of 70 miles an hour a few yards past an entrance to an active sawmill where 50 to 100 trucks enter and leave daily is just simply a dangerous situation,” wrote resident Curtis Mintz. His house is within this three-mile corridor. “I would like to thank the Mineral County Commissioners for presenting this request to the State of Montana for consideration as well as District Representative Denley Loge for his support and input.”

Tammy Fisher lives in Kalispell and is one of five residents who sit on the Montana Highway Commission. She experienced herself the worry and frustration. A few months ago before COVID-19 she came upon a school bus at the stop and she had to quickly slow down.

Fisher also reported seeing many more driveways than anticipated understanding the situation much better.

“Speaking for the residents along this stretch of highway, it will be a little less stressful turning into our respective driveways” was what Paula Mintz said when she heard about the overturned decision.

Most likely the first phase will be the installation of signs alerting traffic to trucks entering form IFG and the school bus stop, said Loge.

“And then new speed limit signs with the ultimate hope being a turn lane for the trucks and employees of IFG and the residents who live past the mill.”

A Montana Department of Transportation official said updated signs and the new speed limit zones for the three-mile stretch entering St. Regis will be up by the end of the month.