Laurel-to-Rockvale highway project off to big start

Bridge work

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

A huge crane and lots of truck traffic mark the spot where a new overpass is being built to bridge the railroad tracks south of Laurel on Highway 212. The bridge will replace an existing underpass and is part of a larger project to reconstruct 212 from south of Laurel to Rockvale.

The most complicated segment of the project to rebuild Highway 212 from south of Laurel to Rockvale is well underway.

The Montana Department of Transportation is in charge of the 11-mile-long project, which will move the roadway several thousand feet west of the existing alignment.

The first phase, which began early this year, involves the construction of an overpass that will take Highway 212 above the railroad tracks at the point where the tracks now pass over a sharp turn in the highway.

Stefan Streeter, Billings district administrator for the MDT, said that portion of the existing highway will be abandoned, but the rest of the roadway from the railroad tracks to Rockvale will remain open for local access.

Gary Neville, the MDT’s district engineer, said the project dates back to 2000, when an environmental impact study was begun. The contract for the first phase of the project was awarded last fall for about $10.5 million.

Bridge

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

A semi-truck, at right, approaches the underpass beneath the railroad tracks south of Laurel on Highway 212, where a new overpass is being built.

The second phase, with a $6 million price tag, will involve intersection and roadway improvements where 212 meets US 310 at Rockvale. That phase, for which a contract is expected to be awarded in September, will consist of road reconstruction, overhead lighting, construction of turn lanes and replacement of the flashing beacon.

Phase 3, at an estimated $28 million, will be the costliest and will involve building a new 9.7-mile highway from the railroad overpass to Rockvale, with construction expected to begin in 2016. Neville said the roadway will be built wide enough to accommodate four lanes eventually.

For now, that segment of highway will be mostly two lanes, with passing lanes added on some stretches. The new alignment will be on higher ground west of the existing highway — up to nearly 4,000 farther west at some points.

The eventual build-out to four lanes is not scheduled yet. Streeter said the mostly two-lane new highway “should suffice for existing traffic for a while.”

Construction of the railroad overpass and the realignment of that section of the highway will probably be completed next spring or summer, Neville said.

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