HELENA — After last week’s “Reverse Parade” for Vigilante Day, MTN heard from a number of Helena residents unhappy about the heavy traffic on Custer Avenue and wanting to know when improvements to the street could be made. Helena city leaders say they’ve heard the complaints, too, and they want to make planning for improving the street a priority going forward.
“We are definitely aware of the challenges that people face with traffic on Custer Avenue – not only on a daily basis, but especially around events that increase traffic on Custer,” said Jake Garcin, public information officer for the city. “So we have been having conversations for quite some time.”
Custer Avenue is now one of the main thoroughfares on Helena’s north side, providing access to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds, Capital High School and Four Georgians Elementary School, among many others. Between Montana Avenue and Henderson Street, though, it generally includes just one lane of traffic in each direction. Leaders identified increasing congestion as an issue several years ago.
It’s not only during special events that the street gets crowded. People have raised concerns about the traffic in the afternoon, when students get out of school.
The process for making changes to Custer Avenue is more complicated than some other Helena streets, because it’s a route managed by the Montana Department of Transportation. In 2018, MDT held public meetings to get input as they planned for a possible expansion of Custer. MDT public information officer Lori Ryan said they have met regularly with the city since that time to talk about the project.
Garcin said, in the next few months, city leaders are going to be working on recommendations for Custer that they can present to MDT.
“We’ll hopefully come up with an agreement that would allow us to finalize an actual working plan and start the process for improvements on Custer,” he said.
One thing is clear: It’s going to be some time before any work on the street begins.
“It will realistically be several years to see it come to fruition, but it is something that’s important to us, and we plan on continuing to move the conversation forward,” said Garcin.
Garcin said, since big changes on Custer may be years away, the city is also looking at possible shorter-term solutions. One idea is to set up park and rides for large events at the Fairgrounds, allowing them to spread out the parking areas and reduce the number of vehicles that have to come in on Custer.