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Work underway at new roundabout to boost safety at dangerous Billings intersection

Neighbor says more should be done to reduce speed on Molt Road
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Posted at 7:28 PM, Jun 10, 2024

BILLINGS- It was two years ago, but Clark Johnson remembers the sound just like it was yesterday.

“I thought to myself, 'that guy is going way too fast,' and five seconds later there was a huge metallic crunch,” he said.

As he walked just feet from his home to the scene of the crash, at his feet lay a 35-year-old motorcyclist, who Johnson says was taking his last breaths.

“I got there, stood at the road looked down, there was not a thing I could do. The guy was barely breathing,” he said.

That was July of 2022 when Johnson watched as a motorcyclistwas killed in a crash with an alleged drunken driver at the intersection of Masters Boulevard and Molt Road.

The moment imprinted on him, and two years later, he’s fighting for change.

“There needs to be something done,” he said. “I knew that there was a speed problem back there. I didn’t really stop and think there was a death problem back there.”

He’s lived on Masters Boulevard for a decade but says the real issue is with Molt Road and how fast cars drive there.

When he saw work being done just feet away to address one of Billings’ most notorious intersections on Rimrock Road and 62nd Street West, he looked into what other safety measures would be installed.

Unfortunately, he says he learned addressing the speeds leading up to the roundabout are not in the plans.

Those with the Montana Department of Transportation identified a crash cluster at the intersection and say building a roundabout will eliminate two intersections, enhance safety features and reduce high-severity crash incidents.

The project also included abandoning the existing Molt Road curve between Rimrock and 62nd Street West.

“The geometry of this intersection is super weird as I am sure every resident knows,” said Alex Paul, engineering project manager for the Montana Department of Transportation.

Despite the sometimes love-hate relationship Billings drivers have with roundabouts, Paul says it's the best solution.

The intersection "has 32 points of conflict. That’s anything from T-bone crashes, when people are trying to turn left to, rear ends,” he said. “All that kind of stuff. But a roundabout has 8.”

He says in the last three decades, MDT officials identified 27 crashes at the intersection, and 14 could have been avoided with a roundabout.

Johnson says a roundabout doesn’t address the approaching speeds into and out of the intersection and back onto Molt Road, which was recently switched from 55 mph down to just 50 mph.

“There are several things the highway department could do to slow down traffic,” said Johnson.

“This project doesn’t address the speeds,” Paul acknowledged. “But passively it will help slow down speeds.”

That’s because drivers will have to slow down to just 15 mph while in the roundabout.

But Johnson maintains he will remain vocal to prevent another tragic death.

“I just don’t want to see people die back there.”