You asked: is an overpass or underpass at Montana Ave. train tracks possible?

Montana Ave. train
Posted at 10:41 AM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-25 16:17:00-05

HELENA — It’s basically a rite of passage in Helena—you’re driving along Montana Ave., then the railroad crossing lights start flashing, the arms come down and now you are stuck waiting for a train to cross the road.

That scenario can lead to backups along busy Montana Ave. But, building an overpass or underpass at that intersection with the train tracks is not the easy fix it sounds like.

“I believe it’s been discussed for the past several decades,” City of Helena transportation systems director David Knoepke said of an overpass or underpass at Montana Ave and the train tracks.

There is an overpass at the intersection of the tracks and Last Chance Gulch, and an underpass at the intersection on Henderson St.

“I’m not really sure why they never did something years and years ago,” Knoepke said.

Building an overpass or underpass at the track intersection on Montana Ave. now would be a complicated project.

First, the tracks are close to the intersection of Montana Ave., Lyndale Ave. and Helena Ave., also known as malfunction junction. Knoepke said an overpass or underpass could interfere with that already challenging intersection.

Second, and overpass or underpass could cutoff access to the many businesses near the tracks.

Third, Knoepke said the railroad needs to keep running through construction.

“Just going above or below tracks has a whole host of issues in itself because you either have to support the tracks if you’re going under, or you have to build over and not impact operations dramatically for the railroad,” Knoepke said.

Finally—there’s the issue of cost.

“I can’t even garner a guess,” Knoepke said. “But it’s a lot more than we have budgeted for anything with MDT right now.”

About 10 years ago, Knoepke said there was an estimate floated that put the project cost at about $50 million. Costs have not gone down since then.

Considering all of those factors, an overpass or underpass at the intersection of Montana Ave. and the train tracks is not in the works. But, there are other projects the city is considering to improve traffic flow.

“Malfunction junction is always being considered,” Knoepke said.

There are also plans to turn the intersection of Last Chance Gulch, Helena Ave. and Neill Ave.—also known as mini malfunction junction—into a roundabout.