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Update: Billings council approves $6M bid to convert one-way streets back to two-ways

The two-way restoration project will include converting 2nd and 3rd Avenues, as well as several downtown cross streets.
one way
Posted at 12:44 PM, May 28, 2024

Update 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

The Billings City Council unanimously approved the plan to approve a $6 million bid aimed at converting many of the city's one-way downtown streets to two-ways.

First Report

BILLINGS - On Tuesday the Billings City Council will mull over an ongoing conversation about two-way street conversions in the city's downtown.

The council is set to hear recommendations to approve a bid to the tune of $6 million to turn many of the city’s downtown one-ways into two-ways.

In addition, the money will also go to improve roads and signals.

The project consists of improvements to 18 existing signals, a new signal at Second Avenue North and Division Street, and the removal of two signals on North 32nd Street at Second Avenue North and Third Avenue North.

The two-way restoration project will include converting Second and Third Avenues, in the busy Montana Avenue and 6th Avenue North corridor, as well as a number of cross streets.

After a downtown traffic study in 2021, North 29th Street and North 30th Street were converted back to two-way streets.

The money is coming from TIF dollars, or Tax Increment Financing, which is a tool local governments use to make improvements to roads and provide incentives to attract businesses or to help existing businesses expand without tapping into general funds or raising taxes.

Mehmet Casey, with the Downtown Billings Alliance, says one-way streets in Billings are the remnants of an outdated traffic relic, back when leaders thought it was important to be able to move traffic in one direction at a fast pace.

“We are still going to maintain some one-ways in our downtown too,” he said. “So, Montana and 1st will stay the same.”

But now, as the focus to invest in the downtown core is at the forefront, that mindset has changed.

“People say that it’s easier to access businesses,” said Casey. “One of the most common things we hear from shoppers is that they say they experience the street differently now.”

Not to mention the one-ways are often confusing for drivers.

“See, we are just experiencing this right now, someone going down the wrong way,” said Casey.

A clear example of a car driving the wrong way on First Avenue North as our news camera was rolling on an interview with Casey.

“It is why our downtown community and shoppers advocate for the two-way because it solves this problem,” he said.

Executive Director Jessica Ruhle agrees with the mission to convert one-ways back to two-ways.

She says often the one-way streets nestled around the YAM presents traffic confusion and safety concerns for staff and visitors.

“It can be frustrating and that’s never how we want our visitors to arrive at the YAM,” she said. “We just want to have a downtown that makes it as easy as possible for residents and guests to come downtown and enjoy all that Billings has to offer.”

Since the conversion back to two-way streets on North 29th Street and North 30th Street, Casey says empty stores filled up.

“About 16 vacancies on 29th filled up since then and about 7 vacancies filled up on 30th,” he said.

Billings City Council members are set to make a decision on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.