Deer Lodge business owners meet with MDT about construction


DEER LODGE, Mont. - It's construction season in Montana, but welcome news for workers can be rotten for drivers and business owners, in particular some in Deer Lodge. The main exit east of Deer Lodge is blocked. Construction workers are repairing a bridge, just off exit 187. Traffic signs tell drivers to get off east of of the main exit at Racetrack, or go farther west to the next exit. The main Deer Lodge exit has been closed for a little more than a month and some businesses are down in sales by up to 50 percent. "The traffic off the exit into town stopped," said Powell County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Toole. "It was like somebody just turned off the spicket." Toole met with business owners to discuss what to do about the construction and a drop in business. "We ended up approaching the folks at the Department of Transportation," said Toole. One primary concern of Deer Lodge residents is that drivers may not know which exit to get off to get to Deer Lodge. MDT met with residents Wednesday night to address their concern. "And I have to say they responded quickly and we put faces to names," said Toole. "We did get a lot of answers to questions we had," said Powell Museum and Arts Foundation Director of Operations Sandy Petty. She said some businesses have lost 25 to 50 percent of sales in the first month. "When you can count the number of tourists you're not getting, and this is snow bird travel season, it makes a big difference to us," said Sandy. In Wednesday's meeting, residents and MDT agreed to put more signs directing traffic off exits and into the heart of the city. "We did get signage for detours to get them off at Racetrack," said Petty. "And get them coming down the frontage road, we did get the OK to do our own signage in certain places." And for Montana Department of Department Butte District Administrator Jeff Ebert and Toole, they say it's all about working together and working it out. "It's all about communication," said Ebert. "And I think we learned their concerns and they learned our constraints with that." "It just goes to show again that when you work together good things can happen," said Toole. MDT said the project is costing $3 million to $5 million. Workers started construction last August, but took a break for the winter. The project started up again April 1; that's when the Deer Lodge exit was closed down for bridge repair. MDT said the entire project should be finished by November. We're told the Deer Lodge exit could be open in two weeks, depending on weather.