A Butte-Silver Bow commissioner is balking back at the Montana Department of Transportation by seeking a speed-limit change on Basin Creek Road through local ordinance.
The MDT recently set a stretch of that rural road south of town at 35 mph following a study and lengthy bureaucratic process, despite concerns from Commissioner Dan Olsen and area residents who think that’s too fast.
But Olsen says this is one instance when a local government can trump the state, and that’s what he’s pursuing.
“We have local authority to change it,” Olsen, now chairman of the council’s Public Works Committee, said this week. “We have the ability to change the signs from 35 mph to 25 mph.”
That will require an addition to a Butte-Silver Bow ordinance, a process that itself can take weeks. But Olsen said the lower limit is what he and residents feel is appropriate and safe and it’s worth the time and effort.
Olsen sought changes all along Basin Creek, an extension of Harrison Avenue that’s also Secondary State Highway 393 and that's overseen by the MDT, because residents are wary of pulling out in front of fast-moving vehicles they can’t see coming.
The south end of Harrison Avenue becomes Basin Creek Road, which then veers to the west and stretches nearly 7 miles, eventually twisting and narrowing as it hugs Basin Creek before ending at Basin Creek Park near the reservoir.
MDT officials surveyed traffic and speeds along the road before recommending a 55-mph limit shortly after the road curves off of Harrison before dropping to 45 mph then 35 mph then 25 mph.
The middle stretch of the corridor previously set at 40 mph is curvy with overgrown bushes and trees, primarily willows, that further limit sight distances, especially this time of year.
Olsen and area residents agreed with the other changes but said the MDT’s recommended 35 mph speed limit for part of the middle stretch was still too fast. They say it will be an even greater concern when Basin Creek Reservoir is opened for public use as planned in the next year or two.
Their objections were noted when the Montana Transportation Commission met this past August, but agency staff said they didn’t agree and the commission approved the recommended changes — including the 35 mph stretch.
Olsen said he doesn’t know why agency staff or the commission dismissed the concerns, but there’s a local way around it.
He wasn’t sure if that could be done with speed limits on all roads and highways overseen by the MDT in Butte-Silver Bow, but he said “we do in this case.”
Ordinance changes usually take weeks for the council to enact, and they typically require at least one public hearing.