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Hwy 191 motorists: Construction delays worth safer highways

Published On: Apr 25 2013 06:20:36 PM MDT   Updated On: Apr 25 2013 06:37:25 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Construction crews are blasting away rock to make way for new turn lanes in Gallatin Canyon and beyond.

There are five projects in all, spanning a 20 mile stretch of Highway 191.

Construction started in March on Red Cliff and should be completed at the end of May. Red Cliff Campground is just a couple of miles past Big Sky on 191.

From there crews will move north, focusing their efforts on Moose Creek Campground, Greek Creek Campground and will wrap up at Karst Ranch and Castle Rock Inn around mid-October.

Marlys Merna turns off her truck and stretches her legs, enjoying the sunshine. She just got word it'll be 15 minutes before traffic is clear and the pilot car is ready to lead them through the blast area.

"It's an inconvenience but it's a means to the other side," says Merna.

Merna is a regular on 191. She's in the process of moving from Bozeman to West Yellowstone for work.

"It is considered, by the locals, to be deadly. It's considered to be one of the deadliest highways in the state," explains Merna.

She says she's concerned about the heavy semi traffic and believes turn lanes are bound to help.

"There's no doubt in my mind a turn lane going into campgrounds and public facilities is going to make this highway much, much safer," says Merna.

The construction at Red Cliff Campground is one of five Gallatin turn lane projects to build different turn lanes on a 20 mile stretch of 191.

Crews have been busy blasting away soil and rock to make way for the turn lane into the Red Cliff Campground for southbound traffic.

Driving through the blast area, we saw that rock and debris have the highway down to one lane. Workers use heavy machinery to move rock above the road. General contractor Scott Sievert says he's optimistic about the new lanes.

"Anything for safety is great. It'll help, it'll definitely help," says Sievert.

Sievert says his employees are working at a ranch nearby but construction hasn't dragged them down.

"They leave early and come back late, so we haven't had too many delays, just minor," explains Sievert.

Folks like Merna say minor delays will be worth it in the end.

"I'm sure this will go through the summer but, in the long run, it's a better move, it really is," says Merna.

Workers tell us they weren't certain when blasting would resume but folks with the Montana Department of Transportation say commuters can expect one-hour traffic delays during excavation.

River closures of up to one hour will also be in effect at Red Cliff during blasting operations.