Large crowd attends Highway 261 meeting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 12, 2005

About 150 people attended a recent public hearing for the proposed widening of Highway 261 through Pelham and Helena.

&uot;Most of the comments were favorable, wanting the project,&uot; DOT district engineer J.F. Horsley said. &uot;It was a good turnout.&uot;

The public hearing, held at Pelham High School, focused on the widening of a three-mile stretch between Highway 31 and County Road 105 (Bearden Road.) Most residents are in favor of the project due to heavy traffic through the area – particularly during morning and evening rush hour.

If the project continues as planned, the stretch would be widened to five lanes. It currently is one of the busiest non-interstate roads in the county, with an average of 18,280 travelers per day.

Horsley said last week some residents who did not attend the two-hour public hearing are turning in comment forms.

&uot;Then we’ll summarize them,&uot; he said.

The summary will be sent along with an environmental impact statement to the Federal Highway Administration for possible approval.

According to Horsley, about 20 or more property owners may have to relocate because of the project, while another 20 or 30 property owners may be affected.

Once DOT submits the report, it will await federal approval to purchase the right-of-way.

DOT will have to apply for grants to fund the project.

If approval comes, appraisers will begin making offers to property owners. In the case of relocation, an offer would be made to the property owner based on home values of other properties. It could take a year for purchase of right-of-way.

Construction could take one and one-half to two years, at a cost of $10 million.

It is the first phase of a planned project that could later include a Helena bypass around the Old Town District.