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US Highway 93 Design Discussions
Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana

Jones and Jones Architects & Landscape Architects: Grant Jones, FASLA, Principal in Charge,
James L. Sipes, ASLA, Project Manager; Charlie Scott; David Sorey; Alex Schwartz; Julie Neff;
Ints Luters; Paul Sorey; Donna House; Anita Hardy; Mark Ellis Walker

James L. Sipes, ASLA
Senior Associate, Jones and Jones Architects & Landscape Architects
105 South Main Street
Seattle, WA 98104
Tel. 206-624-5702;
Fax 206-624-5923

Project Purpose

U.S. Highway 93 is a 55-mile road that bisects the Flathead Indian Reservation in Western Montana. State and federal goals focused on safety and a higher "level of service" for US Highway 93, but tribal goals were much broader. Tribal authorities wanted measures to protect their threatened culture, their sensitive environment and their breathtaking scenery. The original plan to widen the entire roadway to four lanes threatened to bring more suburban settlement from the urban areas to the south and to sever ancient ecosystems forever. The landscape architects worked with tribal, state and federal governments to design a road that is a "visitor" and is respectful of the land, the people and the wildlife. With the leadership of the landscape architects, design discussions culminated in a Memorandum of Agreement for re-routing portions of the highway around precious habitat, for establishing an unprecedented number of wildlife crossings, and for detailed roadway alignments that show more respect for natural features of the land. Design alternatives also addressed new passing lanes, widening of the highway in selected locations, interpretive opportunities, landscape restoration, bike paths, visitor/cultural centers, signage, and assessment of opportunities for conservation easements. A traffic operational analysis was conducted to insure that the final design would be the best in terms of safety and level of service. The landscape architect's conceptual alignments and design guidelines were approved in January of 2001 Construction, which is expected to begin in 2003, will cost approximately $150 million.

Role of the Landscape Architect

After more than 10 years of stalemate between the state and tribal authorities, the landscape architects were asked to find new solutions to the impasse on the project. Although the design team included transportation engineers, civil engineers, and environmental consultants, the landscape architects took the design lead. Getting all parties to agreement required that basic assumptions about transportation be reconsidered. Landscape architects worked with the three governments to develop a methodology that would address cultural concerns. In addition, they generated all initial design concepts for the project, including the alignment and lane configuration concepts for the road and the design guidelines, which define a collective vision for the project.


Special Factors

US Highway 93 is designed to be an eye-opening project, part of a new generation of highways that bring communities together. In reference to the Memorandum of Agreement, the tribal chairman said "the words in the agreement are about rebuilding a road, but the process leading up to it was about rebuilding trust, honor and mutual respect among governments." An article in a Montana paper says the project "represents an unprecedented level of environmental protection in road design and a new alignment of state and tribal interests." A Seattle newspaper headline says, "Montana highway will redefine environmental sensitivity." The headline in a Spokane, WA paper says, "Project opens new era of harmony between people, habitat and road."


The public has a tendency to think that transportation projects are the realm of engineers, not landscape architects. During the 1930s, landscape architects were involved in the design, planning, and construction of major highway projects such as the Merritt and Blue Ridge Parkways. In the decades since then, however, landscape architects have largely lost their position in transportation design and have been relegated to minor roles in the design and planning process. This project reverses that trend, as the landscape architects take the lead in transportation design. A former Federal Highway official said, "Aesthetic, community-sensitive design is where our nation wants to go, and we should go with them." US Highway 93 reestablishes the role landscape architects play in road design, and shows that we are the ones to lead these projects.

The Memorandum of Agreement for rebuilding US Highway 93 across the Flathead Indian Reservation represents a breakthrough for environmental protection and cooperation between state and tribal interests. The project provides an opportunity for landscape architecture to have a significant impact on the environment and on environmental decision-making at a local, state and national level. It also illustrates that landscape architects can take a much larger role in the design and planning of major transportation projects and, yes, actually design roads. TEA-21, with its emphasis on integrated design and public participation and its $30.7 billion budget should provide opportunities for landscape architects willing to push the envelope with innovative transportation planning and design solutions.

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