BILLINGS — On Tuesday, Lockwood resident Melinda Oedekoven said she's excited for Billings Bypass renovations to hopefully provide quicker access from her home on Johnson Lane to her daughter's home far north in the Billings Heights.
Whether she takes Interstate 90 or cuts through Billings, "No matter how you're looking at it, it's 20 minutes. Whereas I bet you this way, as the crow flies, it's going to be seven (minutes). So that's attractive. The thing that's not attractive is I don't know how much more traffic it might put on Johnson Lane," Oedekoven said.
The Johnson Lane I-90 interchange is scheduled to get an update as part of the multi-phase Billings Bypass construction project. Once complete, the construction will establish a new route, connecting Lockwood to Billings Heights via a new bridge over the Yellowstone River.
On Tuesday night, project organizers held a public meeting to update residents on construction progress. Things are moving along on schedule, but two phases got their time lines switched.
Now, work will start first on the railroad and Coulson Road overpass, followed by Johnson Lane improvements.
The switch was made, "To allow more time to interact with the public on the Johnson Lane interchange and to provide utility for the new railroad bridge segments that's currently being constructed to Coulson Road. Such that users can use the new bypass route across the river," said Doug Enderson, Billings Bypass project manager.
The change in schedule shouldn't change the overall project deadline, Enderson said. The multi-phase project is expected to wrap up sometime in 2025.
Once work on the overpass is complete and the roadway is connected to the new bridge, traffic can start to drive the bypass while crews finish work on the Johnson Lane improvements.
A major change to Johnson Lane will be the addition of a diverging diamond interchange around the I-90 on and off ramp area. The interchange will be the first of its kind constructed in the state.
"Traffic will actually swap over to the other side of the road to safely turn on and off the interstate," Enderson said.
While the interchange looks complex, its designed for safety and efficiency. People may have encountered this type of roadway in Cheyenne, Wyoming
Vehicles would no longer have to cross into oncoming lanes to make a left onto the interstate. With the new interchange, there would be a dedicated path of travel for vehicles that would have had to make the more risky left turn.
Watch the video below to see an animation of the Johnson Lane diverging diamond interchange in action.
The interchange's addition will make for easier maneuvering for big rig drivers, said James Balzer, sales manager for Jackson Group Peterbilt.
"Diverging diamond coming, certainly impactful for us. Getting on and off the interstate. No question, traffic backs up there regularly in and out of the area multiple times a day," Balzer said.
The Peterbilt shop is located north of the Johnson Lane interchange on the frontage road, in the area where crews are tentatively scheduled to start work in
The area receives a lot of truck traffic, with many businesses in the area utilizing the 18-wheelers. The area also hosts two truck stops and a truck wash located nearby the I-90 on and off ramps.
With trucks often towed to the Peterbilt repair shop, "Length is the key factor for us. We need big roads, wide roads to get those things around. I think that intersection being so predominantly trucks, it's important that it stays truck friendly, because everything over there is trucks," Balzer said.
The railroad overpass is expected to be complete sometime in 2022 with the Johnson Lane interchange tentatively scheduled to wrap up sometime in 2023.
To learn more about the project and its individual phases, visit the Montana Department of Transportation web site by clicking here.