KALISPELL, Mont. - Downtown Kalispell's iconic historic couplet around the Flathead County Courthouse could be removed.
Pedestrian safety has the Montana Department of Transportation trying to come up with a plan to reroute the highway.
There has been an ongoing project to rebuild the highway between Somers and Whitefish -- it's the last area of land that needs to be fixed.
Currently, the highway condenses into two-lane traffic, one lane going to the east of the courthouse and the other, southbound lane going to the west.
MDT wants to replace the southbound traffic lane with a pedestrian path. This will connect the main courthouse and the other county buildings across the street, similar to a mall layout.
The reroute would put two or even four lanes of traffic all to the east of the courthouse, two north and two southbound lanes of U.S. 93.
"I really like the driving around there and I like the view of the courthouses," said Kalispell resident Georgia Parson.
NBC Montana spoke with Kalispell city planners to learn more about the plan.
"The couplet is the last piece of highway between Somers and Whitefish to be reconstructed. That reconstruction project started 20 years ago. So, it's a piece of highway that needs to be reconstructed. MDT is concerned about that so they're pushing it forward on their priority list," said the Tom Jentz, director of city planning.
Businesses have voiced concerns about there already being heavy traffic. They feel adding lanes around the courthouse would make downtown Kalispell chaotic and not very calm.
"Their concern is, should Main Street continue to be a major highway or should it become a main street again?" Jentz said.
The Flathead County Commissioners' office is in favor of the change. They feel that putting all traffic lanes to one side of the courthouse will eliminate pedestrian safety concerns.
"They're investing in a lot of employment in that island. It's also a historical component of our community. They're concerned about how they get their employees across to the rest of the county campus," Jentz said.
Pedestrians are often seen running across the street to avoid getting hit by a car. Longtime Kalispell residents have lived through it.
"I can understand the need for change because I've tried to cross it many times and people don't slow down and they don't stop for the crosswalks," Parson said.
There is a U.S. 93 bypass already being built that offers an alternate traffic route around the west side of Kalispell. That project is supposed to be completed within the next couple of years. The City of Kalispell is encouraging MDT to wait until that bypass is completed to see how it affects traffic. Then, further planning can be discussed.
The reroute project is in the early stages of development and it could be a long time before any construction begins.
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