BLM OKs $5 million road project along Blackfoot River

(MISSOULA, Mont.) – The road ahead for those traveling a popular byway along the Blackfoot River should be a little smoother in the future, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management Missoula Field Office’s approval of a proposed $5-million Federal Lands Transportation Project to improve 5.7 miles of Johnsrud-McNamara Road.

The road is a connecting link to several popular fishing and recreation sites along the Lower Blackfoot River corridor from Johnsrud Park to Whitaker Bridge.

“The project was approved to improve the long-term condition of the road, which has degraded to its native road base and would need to be improved and re-graveled in the near future if the proposed action were not approved,” said Western Montana BLM District Manager Katie Stevens, who signed the Decision Record for the project today. “This stretch of road gets steady enough use during the busy season that dust is frequently hanging in the river corridor, and the noise of vehicles steadily passing is noticeable when recreating on the river.”

The proposed action will reduce noise and dust on the river corridor caused by vehicles during the busy season and will improve safety and the travel experience by reducing the problem of washboard surfaces and potholes. The project will also reduce long-term maintenance costs significantly, which will allow the field office’s annual maintenance budget to be spent on upkeep for other roads accessing public lands.

“Chip-sealing this portion of road will decrease annual maintenance costs by approximately 50 percent each year over a 30-year lifespan, allowing the field office to better keep up with annual road maintenance needs on other public lands in the area,” Stevens said. “We know a lot of people value the undeveloped nature of this road as part of the overall recreation experience in this area, and so we carefully considered the tradeoffs associated with this road becoming more hardened and developed. On balance, the benefits outweigh the detriments, especially in light of maintenance costs when considering future recreation use around Missoula.”

The project is tentatively scheduled to start in 2022 using Federal Land Access Program funds. The road and access into the day use areas and Thibodeau campground will be paved and chip-sealed, two narrow spots will be widened, wide areas will be narrowed to 20 feet, concrete jersey barriers will be replaced with guardrails, gravel will be added to pullouts, and vegetation will be removed or trimmed for sight distance. A new speed limit of 30 mph will be implemented.

The recreation sites in this stretch--Darrell Sall Memorial, Daigles Eddy, Sheep Flats, and Thibodeau Rapids--and Thibodeau Campground, will be unavailable in the spring, summer and fall of 2022 while the project is ongoing.

In order to keep the appearance of the road as similar as possible to the current undeveloped character, guardrails will be colored to blend closely to their surroundings, minimal to no pavement striping will be done, and the road will be chip-sealed in a more neutral color.

For more information, call the Missoula Field Office at (406) 329-3914.

This year, we invite everyone to reimagine your public lands as we celebrate 75 years of the BLM’s stewardship and service to the American people. The BLM manages approximately 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The agency’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. 

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