Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Montana Department of Transportation

US 93 Memorandum of Agreement

photo of large valley with mountains in background
Highway 93 extends north of Missoula through the town of St. Ignatius, connecting Montana's two fastest growing areas. (Skillings-Connolly Inc.)
photo view of valley with roadway and surrounding hills
US 93 is being designed to blend into the surrounding land of Ravalli Hill. (Skillings-Connolly, Inc.)

The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is rebuilding trust as it rebuilds a highway.

Highway 93 extends north of Missoula, bisecting the Flathead Indian Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Known for both its breathtaking beauty and its high accident rates, this habitat is home to several listed and sensitive carnivore and fish species, and the history of the CSKT is written on the landscape.

Discussion of the US 93-from-Evaro-to-Polson project began in the early 1980s and continued through the Environmental Impact Statement process in the early 1990s, with CSKT and MDT disagreeing over the preferred road design. In August 1996, the FHWA released an unusual "Record of Decision" deferring construction until the differences between CSKT and MDT could be resolved.

In March 2000, following several years of project stagnation, a tri-government team was established to work through the issues, and the firm of Skillings-Connolly, Inc. was hired to lead the negotiation process. The effort worked so well that the CSKT, FHWA and MDT signed an agreement in December 2000, only nine months after the team had been created.

The design premise for the project is that the road is merely a "visitor" and should respect what the CSKT call Spirit of Place - a continuum of everything on the reservation that is seen, touched, experienced, and traveled through. This focus enables a cultural and historic preservation that had not been considered previously and that has proven key to the success of the project.

MDT has made an unprecedented commitment to building 42 wildlife passages on the route-box culverts, open-span bridges, corrugated metal pipes, and even a 200-foot-wide vegetated overpass. These structures will decrease animal deaths on the highway and will mitigate for the habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation that currently exist. The 56-mile, $125 million project has been billed as a national showcase for wildlife and highway inter-connection.

Landscape that is historically significant to the CSKT will be preserved, and special signage, materials and plants will enhance the project. Habitat mitigation will focus on preserving and mitigating for adverse impacts to wetland and riparian habitats, including a "net gain" approach for unavoidable impacts. Wetland creation on the project will be located near the crossing areas to facilitate revegetation and cover for wildlife.

US 93 from Evaro to Polson will be a two-lane highway with wider shoulders and liberal passing, climbing and turning lanes - a design that meets project safety and capacity goals and avoids social, economic, and environmental impacts. Construction is slated to begin in late 2004 or early 2005.

For more information contact Dale Paulson at dale.paulson@fhwa.dot.gov.

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