Gallatin County creates standards for roads

2/26/2020 Bozeman Daily Chronicle, by Perrin Stein

Gallatin County has its first set of transportation standards, a framework for road designs that could help officials manage the county’s rapid growth.

The Gallatin County Commission unanimously approved the standards on Tuesday after considering concerns that they don’t adequately account for pedestrians and bicyclists in parts of the county that border cities.

The transportation standards are detailed in a 40-page document that outlines regulations for street widths, intersection designs, paving materials, rights-of-way and other aspects of road design. Until now, the county had transportation standards only for subdivisions, leaving commissioners without guidelines for other types of development.

“Right now, we have transportation development standards that apply in our subdivision regulations and bits and pieces in our zoning regulations … so standardizing the requirements for all types of projects … really closes a great big gap,” Gallatin County Planning Director Sean O’Callaghan said at a Feb. 4 meeting where the county commissioners first considered the standards.

Ralph Zimmer, the chair of the Bozeman Area Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, said the standards incorrectly treat the rural and urban sections of the county similarly.

“The increasing development right outside the county’s cities has the potential for creating new gaps, and we would encourage the adoption of language that minimizes the gaps that could cause us problems in the years to come when areas in the county might become parts of Belgrade or Bozeman,” he said.

Marilee Brown, vice chair of the committee and a member of several local groups including Galla10 Alliance for Pathways, presented proposed revisions to the transportation standards that she said would better address urbanizing areas of the county. The commissioners rejected her suggestions.

“We want you to revisit the examples of how other cities have handled the massive growth that is occurring, so another 10 years doesn’t go by with development occurring and no plans in place,” she said.

“The best example I can think of is the new subdivisions near the YMCA. How are people going to get around?”

In response to the concerns, county engineer Levi Ewan said that some parts of the county are addressed in cities’ planning documents and those areas follow the cities’ transportation standards to provide consistency. He also said the countywide transportation standards are a baseline and don’t preclude having stricter standards dictated in documents like the Triangle Plan, which sets guidelines for the developing area between Bozeman, Belgrade and Four Corners.

The commissioner acknowledged that designing for growth is challenging and said having transportation standards will help them think more broadly about roads and trails as they develop and update planning documents.

“I understand the energy for wanting to have really deliberate plans for all of this extra city area that we know of as county but that will inevitably be the city of Bozeman or the city of Belgrade eventually, but we have ways to address those areas and we recognize that we want to be more deliberate about pedestrian facilities in those areas,” said commissioner Scott MacFarlane.

The county transportation standards were three years in the making. The county road and bridge department developed the standards in collaboration with the planning department and the county attorney’s office. The groups took into account state and national road standards as well as the regulations of other Montana counties.

Before being finalized, a draft was reviewed by engineers, Belgrade and Bozeman officials, developers and local groups like the Gallatin Valley Land Trust and Safer Bozeman. The standards were finalized in January before going to the county commissioners.

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