Southside Corridor: Changes Move Full Steam Ahead

Thursday Jun. 1st, 2023

Growing pains bring opportunities to reduce congestion and enhance key throughways in South Bozeman. First of a three-part series on plans and proposals in play this year for handling growth infrastructure in Bozeman and nearby communities.

A farmer near my neighborhood has been farming land in various locations in South Bozeman since the 1960s.  But recently, it’s been harder to get his large tractor where he needs to go to do his business. One day last season, he realized he couldn’t access a farm he tends at a key intersection across town. A couple of posts had been set up for a designated bike path. The city did agree to move them temporarily so he could get through but, soon enough, he noticed they were knocked down. Probably someone came through with a trailer, he guesses.

On another occasion, this farmer stopped his 34,000-pound John Deere at a red light at the corner of S. Third and Kagy, when a car pulled up on his left—right in the line of his massive wheels— the driver demanded that he move out of the way so he could go around the behemoth to make a right turn. “That fellow waited three light changes until he gave up and got out of my way, so I could make the turn,” he recounted. “I don’t understand how he could think I could magically move sideways. Or why he couldn’t have waited for the green light.”

Stories like these highlight the challenges Bozeman faces as it transitions from a rural town with a University in the middle to a micropolitan mecca with more urban-minded dwellers, and many modes of transport sharing older roads.

While the pace of development on this side of the city speeds up, the joint transportation project to reconstruct the Kagy Boulevard corridor is attempting to solve some of these conflicts. The project was initiated by The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the City of Bozeman, in cooperation with Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies, and other stakeholders. After having received public input at meetings in late May, the project is in its final stage of scope design, which city commissioners will review this summer.

After extensive research, engineering modeling and public input, the city’s current design proposal would widen Kagy between 19th and Willson to four lanes, and add in three roundabouts at Willson, 7th and 11th Avenues. The plan also would fix current infrastructure defects, create separated bicycle and pedestrian lanes, build two pedestrian tunnels or overpasses, and add new landscaping and lighting.

Nick Ross, Director of Transportation and Engineering for the City of Bozeman, says the project, if it goes forward with the additional lanes, would be the largest bike infrastructure yet for Bozeman. Overall, community input favors shared use paths separated from roadway on both sides of a street. He says the plan pulls from other models of industry best practices and high-growth areas for “complete streets” that consider all the ways people move about, while considering the specific context of Bozeman’s community and environment. The department’s focus in the coming decades will be on South Bozeman as the new hub of city development, as the west and north sides have been in recent decades. With the more difficult challenges of having to work with existing infrastructure in this part of town, “we aim to use the lessons that others have learned before we make the same mistakes,” Ross explains.

The city estimates almost 10,000 new housing units could be built in the areas south and west of Kagy over the next 20 years, accounting for 36% of Bozeman’s population. Other projects involving the streets parallel to Kagy (including Stucky and Arnold) are coming into focus as well, to prepare for this development and increasing numbers of MSU students.

While about $18 million of the project would be funded by federal sources, some residents and planners have expressed concerns about whether city taxpayers should foot the bill for the rest of the estimated $27 million project (estimating for inflation) and future maintenance costs.. Ross says the funds would likely come from the city’s street impact fees, although other sources are not ruled out. If the Commission approves the scope this summer, and design with contractor Sanderson Stewart begins, the earliest construction would start in 2026.

Where residents, developers and the city tend to agree is on the need for accommodating all types of transportation and the benefit of having fewer cars on the roads. Every new development project factors in bicycle and non-vehicle traffic. The strong outdoor-oriented, physically active nature of Bozeman’s community supports more multi-modal transportation and promotes more bicycle and pedestrian movement year round. The median age of Bozeman is just under 28, according to the last census. The city recently launched its new Guaranteed Ride Home program to help active transportation users get a ride home if needed as an extra incentive. And as more electronically propelled bikes, scooters and wheelchairs hit the streets, the complications of keeping people safe and commuters less stressed only intensify.

Residents, students and visitors not only frequent the project’s section of Kagy as a main east-west passageway and for local businesses and campus commutes, but also for events at MSU’s  biggest facilities—Bobcat Stadium, the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, and the Museum of the Rockies. 

The reconstruction of the heavily-trafficked Kagy corridor provides an opportunity to improve both infrastructure and aesthetics, to bring Bozeman more in line with other cities which have prioritized it. The questions city planners and the public have weighed in on is whether such an extensive project is necessary, sufficient to handle growth, and what it would cost city coffers. Some opponents are concerned adding more lanes will worsen traffic.

Meanwhile, south of city limits, a few miles down 19th, where the southside farmer’s own residence and farm enters the roadway, a residents’ petition is in play with the state and county to evaluate and reduce the speed limit from the current 60mph posting from Patterson Road south, along Hyalite Heights and neighboring homes to at least Mystic Heights, and Kirk Hill, to Fowler/Hyalite Canyon. Residents in the area have seen the impacts of more vehicles moving fast on this main county thoroughfare to and from newer subdivisions, to and from Hyalite area subdivisions, Kirk Hill, Hyalite Canyon, and the backroad to Big Sky - Cottonwood Road to Highway 191.

With more cyclists, including e-bikes, runners and pedestrians navigating the narrow shoulders with only a few areas where they can opt to travel on makeshift trails off the road, safety has become a key concern. Increasing casualties of wild and domestic animals have also prompted the petition, as residents deal with the heartbreak of more pet collisions and roadkill, as well as vehicles in ditches, going too fast for wintry conditions.

Speed limits are also changing within the city at large. Bozeman Safe Streets Plan was designed to evaluate citywide speed limits. Engineers mapped out every block within city limits. This plan is now being submitted to the City Commission for approval, with updates and community education efforts to begin this year.

Farmers and others who have seen the town undergo its metamorphosis in the past 60 years understand that change is inevitable. The southside farmer laments that, as he gets older, his body can do less and it’s nearly impossible to find help. He says tending fields is not profitable anymore, but it’s a way of life and a service to the community. “I’ll keep doing it and keep driving that tractor as long as I can,” he says. 

For the rest of us, it’s a reminder that as our southside rural landscapes and areas near the MSU campus evolve and become more densely populated, our collective contributions are needed to create roadways we can all navigate together for decades to come.   

Kerie Hagler is a 20+ year Bozemanite, Realtor and freelance writer balancing business, an excess of hobbies and pet parenthood in the playground we call Montana. Her focus is on issues and stories at the intersection of community, conservation and design.

City of Bozeman
Guaranteed Ride Home Program
Commuters of Bozeman
Public Involvement and Active Project

Kagy Blvd Project