Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Farewell to Public Transit

The Helena area has long been in need of fixed routes to better serve the current ridership and allow expansion of the Capital Transit, "Ride the Capital T," system. Federal funds for Helena AND the surrounding area provide amble resources to allow for a basic fixed route system with relatively minor local matching funds.  As I wrote in 2014 while serving on the Helena City Commission, "these routes will make public transit more useful to everyone in our community" with existing resources. Recent changes to the Capital T include the improvement of modern technology for smart phone users but come at the time of effectively eliminating a public transit system with the exception of the East Helena flex route. Despite never being well-established the routes had "increased ridership" according the deputy director of Helena's transit system earlier this month of Coffee Talk. Fixed routes allow for more efficient, consistent, and useful transit that can serve vastly more riders with convenience. Routes should be seen as a critical component of transit in our community to help people get where they need to go.  

The City of Helena recently announced "a new service model to make public transportation more flexible and accessible" with a "new Capital Transit app to schedule rides and pay fares" while canceling fixed bus routes in Helena after March 21st.

The addition of a smartphone app is good and maybe a little overdue, though not everyone has a smartphone for a variety of reasons. The loss of the fixed routes is a major setback for public transit in our community. A memo to the Helena City Commission on January 9, 2019, notes that the current system at that time would continue to limit expanded service due to the high percentage of curb to curb or para-transit rides relative to fixed routes. Specifically, the trajectory then and now further established with canceling the blue and red routes, the City could:

• Not consider additional adding new fixed routes to serve commercial development locations 

• Not consider additional expansions of services such as services for evenings or weekends. 

• May need to consider shrinking our current para transit service to match the federally required minimum of serving an area no more than ¾ of a mile of the established fixed route system. 

From: (Note: The memo compared route numbers without including the East Helena route) 

It is important to note, this is not a budget issue. This style of system is inherently limited in the number of trips it can provide relative to a fixed route system. We don't have to look to Berkeley, just around the Berkley Pit to see a community of similar size and topography that has made their community more accessible with fixed routes complementing paratransit and other services for those in need while also creating a safe, reliable option for anyone who might not drive or have a car on a given day to work, play and run errands. Butte's bus system even has a limited weekend route. 

From: From:

The full potential of routes in Helena was never realized. Some advocacy groups did not want transit run by the city. Deviations to the fixed route, such as a loop into Carroll College and the Great Northern Center, limited the service area. Some executives at the City were generally against the use of general fund dollars to match the federal funds that cover most of the cost of the system. COVID of course hurt ridership as the routes were shut down on occasion due to staffing issues. However, as was the case nearly a decade ago, the current system cannot provide enough rides to serve everyone without some measure of fixed routes. 

There are excellent drivers at the Capital Area Transit System who care deeply about the passengers they serve and they should be thanked for the job they do. However, a bus or van can only serve so many riders per day. The City of Helena with Lewis and Clark County has the resources to provide a fixed route system. Rather than abandon such a system they should make the investment to make it work so more people of all abilities are able to use public transit in our community. This would compliment, not limit the related services such as paratransit and curb to curb. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Why do we pay for a transfer station that closed on the weekend?

Two weekends ago at the City of Helena Transfer Station on Saturday.
Helena and Helena Valley residents hauling yard waste, taking out their trash, or recycling at the City of Helena Transfer Station have faced a crowded scene these last three weekends. Folks are right to be courteous to the staff on the ground doing an amazing, essential job of moving folks through. They should wonder why their public collection facility is closing on Sunday when the weekends are the busiest time for residents to use the facility. 

The weekend closure highlights an underlining flaw in how our public "solid waste system" is run that leads to less service. The overarching priority is to maximize trash to the landfill while maximizing tax revenue from residents into the public "enterprise" funds. The funds, which include the City Transfer Station, City Commercial Collection Service, and Lewis & Clark County Landfill are run to make public visits to the facility "more efficiency" by reducing trips (residential use) and increasing "tonnage" per trip (commercial use). Additional sources of trash are sought for revenue.  

The recent Sunday closure is apparently to address risks posed to residents as they get closer to this trash climbing the tipping floor walls per COVID 19 (city budget discussion).  The *proximity to trash is a potential vector disease should, however, should be avoided in the best of times. Fortunately, this situation can be avoided: 

  • The City Transfer Station can send trash to the private landfill on Sunday. The private company was open to this in the past as a trash exchange could help both parties operate more efficiently, save fuel, and reduce costs while avoiding the weekend service issues.
  • Direct City Residential and Commercial Garbage trucks directly to the Lewis and Clark County Landfill, as least on Friday and Saturday so they don't fill up the pit ahead of residents. As the 2014 "Efficiency Study of [the] Solid Waste System" noted, this would have immense cost savings to the entire collection system (**nearly $2,700 per week!). **This could also allow the second bay to be open for social distancing on the weekend.  

However, both of these options go against business as is usual for our public collection system seeking to outcompete a private company for trash. Several years ago, the same contradiction came to light as the City and County sought to drastically limit the use of the Transfer Station by residents--less than a dozen trips per year. Residents rightly raised heck about this. That tonnage goal policy had to be abandoned by the city and county commissioners who'd supported it after residents realized they could no longer use the facility their taxes pay for. The current Sunday closure stems from the same rationale to pursue handling more trash rather than service to residents. This reduction in service should be abandoned.

The city and county commissions can and should immediately act to prioritize safety and convenience residents by opening the Transfer Station on Sunday. While they are at it, the should reprioritize the related "solid waste system" budgets to address the conflicts that caused this weekend mess in the first place. 

- ME

Three weekends ago on Saturday. 
Last Saturday.
Recent Saturday Spring 2020Recent Saturday Spring 2020

p.s. Kudos to the new City Commissioners trying to address this very issue during the budget process, the only place to seriously address it, as the City is slated to spend $1,350,000 for an extra shop for Residential Garbage trucks (the "enterprise" fleet gets to keep the current digs). 

p.s.2. This conflicted goal of more trash while residents are paying for a generally fixed and often underutilized service has other peculiar effects.  Waste reduction, recycling, and compost options are at odds with tonnage over the transfer station and landfill scales. For example, green waste separated by residents at the transfer station brings in the full per ton rate for the Transfer Station. However, the separate "recycling fund" from the tax assessments pays to process the material, which is no longer composted. Green waste was historically composted with the City Waste Water sewage sludge to create soil. Now both items are buried with tipping fees paid to the enterprise funds.

p.s..3. As I summarize here, our community was promised a more responsive collection system that would focus on service to residents, including recycling and related diversion efforts. It is time to realize this promise and prioritize giving residents the services they are paying for on the days they'd use them.

*Since the Lewis & Clark County Landfill is closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday, the trash from residents thrown from the north bay (image left) and garbage trucks on the right, builds up. Either of the alternatives mentioned would alleviate or eliminate this situation during the weekend and allow for use of the second bay for social distancing and convenience. 

A recent image from the recently built $1,600,000 expansion
 on a day trash has not yet reached the platform used by residents.

**From the 2014 Solid Waste System Efficiency Study (August 22nd Version; de facto final draft)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Helena zoning changes should require a public process.


This Monday, January 13th, the Helena City Commission will consider major changes to most existing residential neighborhoods (agenda linked here). These changes, specifically "Item B" on the consent agenda, should be rejected. Here is the letter I submitted to the Helena Independent Record:

Keep a Public Process for Zoning Changes

This Monday, the Helena Commission may rezone most neighborhoods to allow higher buildings, increased lot coverage, and more dwelling units. This already happens, but with a public variance process.

Similar changes were rejected in the 2008 zoning overhaul. Residents raised concerns about privacy, sunshine for gardening, traffic, solar access, views, emergency access, and other items affecting their home value and quality of life. The changes will be efficient for developers and increase infill. They will not always benefit existing residents, some of whom might look outside Helena City Limits where six times as many single-family homes are built most years—not a win for density or tax base for emergency services.

There were unintended consequences from the 2008 changes.  One of them was a streamlined conditional use permit (CUP) process that is too permissive; something the commission is also addressing this Monday (other examples at

The commission should reject the proposed zoning changes, make changes one neighborhood at a time, or at least require a CUP for the new rules. Housing can still change, but residents should be able to raise their concerns and the city should address them.

Details for Monday’s 6 pm meeting are at

Matt Elsaesser
P.O. Box 321
Helena, MT

In 2014, six houses went outside of city limits for every house build in city limits. Many of the reasons are well documented in this Helena Independent Record article (four houses to East Helena or the Valley, 2 additional neighboring counties). The issues documented in the article that make Helena the "capital of sprawl" include rural development loans available only outside of the city, difficulty building in the city, and lack of city interest in bringing nearby development into the city. None of these issues are addressed by retroactively rezoning existing neighborhoods including many that are already of the densest in the state. Combined with city action to eliminate off-street parking requirements and not allowing shared water lines, there are real fiscal costs too.

Here are more details on the impacts I have cited related to the 2008 zoning changes:
  • An overly permissive conditional use permit (CUP) process left the city commission with the option to either deny a project or not mitigate conflicts. For example, parking or other expansion by a business from a commercial district into a residential district ("highest use") may increase property and tax value. A CUP process, in theory, could mitigate the impacts to the homeowner is this scenario, but only if the CUP process allows conditions to mitigate conflicts.
  • Default approval of minor subdivision with no review of traffic impacts, costs to city utilities, and other impacts. 
    • City utilities subsidizing new axillary dwelling units (ADU's/Mother in Law Apartments) in existing neighborhoods by using water main replacement funds to run lines down alleyways with minor subdivisions. (This could be addressed by requiring easements when lots are subdivided but the city utility often covers this cost--$300,000 for around 10 new houses one year. Other new, non-infill development would have paid these costs directly.)
    • Allowing new duplexes and apartment buildings in all residential zones will increase traffic in some areas. It is not always going to be a problem, but the city is left with no tools to mitigate these impacts.
    • Example: Someone builds a "mother-in-law" apartment on the garage off of the alley and then sells the garage has a separate house. City requirements will include new water services down the alleyway that must be paid for. 
  • Continued growth outside of city limits for single-family homes as high as seven houses per year for every house in the city. Some of this was inevitable as some folks want to live in a more rural setting. Much of it was not.
  • Allowing four-plex apartment buildings in the consolidate Residential One and Residential Two (R1/R2) zoning districts. This is allowed by combining the right for a duplex on any two adjoining lots to be combined. (Not inherently bad but not what a young family might expect to be built against their back yard) 
  • A lawsuit against our public airport, proposed emergency zoning, and near failure to renew the airport to prevent uses recently affirmed in the zoning update. (Incidentally, this likely stopped hundreds of state jobs and an additional parking garage from going downtown at the core of our community)
  • Continued distraction from serious planning work to realize the City-County Memorandum of Understanding regarding joint design standards within the urban boundary(s) set by the current growth policy.
  • It remains less favorable to develop large subdivisions in city limits relative to outside of city limits. This includes higher infrastructure costs since new development must overbuild infrastructure to meet Helena's streamlined zoning and their housing goals. To get higher density, higher lot coverage single-family zoning, developers must try for a planned unit development or select higher density zoning and include their own covenants for use. This means the city must require wider streets among other things since the zoning would allow for more apartments and residents, even though the homes are single-family. Costs are higher and the density of the development is offset by wider streets.
The City would do better to focus on other barriers to development in the city relative to areas outside of city limits including other counties. One major disparity is the allowance for rural development loans outside of city limits; something the commission could work with our congressional delegation to address as other communities have done by simply grandfathering the existing or previous city limits to allow new growth in the city to be eligible for the funds.

- ME

p.s.  The city could genuinely lead to protecting our environment in a lot of areas. In this case, the city could condition new development rights with substantial economic benefit to the developer to include provisions for green building and public safety. The city is not winning on "smart-growth," infill, and like policies for the larger community.

p.s.2. As I wrote in 2014, while serving on the commission, the city actually needs more zoning designations to better serve residents and growth policy goals. Ironically, these changes continue a path going the other direction.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Our community wants to recycle plastics: Our publicly funded institutions should support the effort


Distributed to Helena Citizens Council Night of March Meeting
March 27 Memo 1 of 2 Pages
Executive leadership at the City of Helena is looking at and seeking public comment regarding the plastics recycling program at the City of Helena Transfer Station. The public works director and other executive leadership from the city and county public works presented to the Helena Citizen Council at March 27 and to the Helena Citizens Conservation Board April 11 with the following memo. A presentation to the Scratch Gravel Landfill District Board, the board in charge of the solid waste assessment for the 14,000 residents of the Helena Valley, is tentatively scheduled for their next meeting. The memo provided at the first two meetings follows in these two images (click on images to view):
Distributed to Helena Citizens Council Night of March Meeting
March 27 Memo - Other Page

This memo and the presentations thus far seek simple input: Whether to discontinue a costly uncertain program that is bad for the environment as is, option 1; or discontinue the bad, the carbon-intensive program but encourage curbside program for those who want to recycle, option 2. Before you get too discouraged, you should know that the program is not bad for the environment and it is more than paid for by the solid waste assessments we pay in this community. 

The memo illustrates the well-advertised views of some executive staff at the city, generally those in charge of our local solid waste regime. It does not accurately reflect the situation with plastics recycling in Helena nor acknowledge the promise of what we pay for in Helena, which is supposed to include recycling and other beneficial diversion options as a priority. (A yet to be written, "Option 3" encouraged at the March 27 meeting would be to still eliminate the program but encourage education and policy against using plastics--nothing wrong with that but the decision here is about the role of public infrastructure we pay for already) 

Regarding the memo and this "dollar and cents" decision as defined by the cities public works director:
  • Plastics recycling saves a substantial amount of energy and water relative to virgin plastics in manufacturing; local recyclers are not landfilling this material. This recent study outlined at shows the benefit:

    Screenshots from this link April 23, 2019 

    • While the memo hints at the complexity of recycling, Helena's limited program for type 1 and 2 plastics goes to Helena Recycling. As owner John Hilton noted at both meetings, the cost increase to bale plastics reflects his need to cover costs as domestic mills are paying little to nothing for plastic supply due to high supply following changes in policies in China (addressing contamination from programs that do not have the quality control we have in Helena's programs). 

  • Helena and Lewis & Clark County promised an Integrated Solid Waste Management System (a focus on diversion over landfilling) including free curbside recycling in the city AND full recycling services at the landfill. 

  • Helena Independent Record 10/4/1993Helena Independent Record 10/4/1993

      • These articles from the Independent Record shows one example from when the community elected for the public landfill, transfer station and collection service option with a promise of recycling. More examples posted here.  
    • The solid waste assessments in our community are more than $3,000,000!
        • $1,761,000 + $1,232,000 + $110,000 = $2,993,000
        • City Assessment: 176.10 x 10,000 = 1,761,000
        • Scratch Gravel Solid Waste District: 14,000 x $88 = 1,232,000
        • *City Landfill District:  ~$110,000 per year in 2013
          *City residents and commercial properties also pay into a landfill district. This assessment was around $110,000 but has increased substantially after storm water flooded the old landfill for a couple of years.  This district was previously paid for as part of the per ton rate at the scale.  
        • The increased cost for plastics recycling is $6,000; just 16.5 cents per residence for the upcoming budget.
    • The budgets of these operations are over-capitalized.
      • Much of the recent $1,000,000 renovations currently and over the last few years at the transfer station were not recommended by the "2014 Efficiency Study." They do not prioritize diversion or other service but rather the opposite with a focus on the tonnage of trash. There are needs the city and country taxpayer-financed operation should be investing in like household hazardous waste to prevent dumping or abandoning of items not collected in town--e.g.the hex chromium that shutdown treatment at our wastewater plant.
      • Even through funded primarily by assessments, these operations are managed and discussed as if an enterprise as shown in the most recent meeting minutes of the Scratch Gravel Solid Waste District. (siteminutes)
    • This is part of a disturbing trend to limit services to residents while focusing on trash tonnage through the transfer station and the landfill as advanced by executive staff at the city and county. Just focusing on recommendations since the "2014 Efficiency Study," these include:
      • Minimum tipping fees, originally brought to the city commission to include NO free visits to the transfer station for taxpaying residents and at a level that would allow less than one visit a month for county residents before they'd be cash customers.
      • Elimination of the compost program for yard waste. Compost was presented as being a substantial cost but had substantial savings for tax-payer though it was a "loss" to the landfill. 
      • Proposed weekend closure of the transfer station. 
      • Note: I am only listing more recent items following the 2014 Efficiency Study which was controlled by those it was supposed to review. Getting rid of alleyway collection and other considerations risk increasing cost while reducing service.
    • Also missing: An option to improve the current plastics program
    • Courtesy M. Nelson, 2019
      Baler at Lake Co., MT Transfer Station
      • There are other collection models for plastic in Montana, such as this program in Kalispell using collection trucks or at the Lake County Transfer Station where separated type 1 and 2 plastics are baled and sold to a local recycling company.

      • Larger hopper, maybe using the recycling area like a Z-wall to allow more storage might help with staff time and service for example.
        Marysville Transfer Station - Elsaesser, M. 4/21/19
      • Other exciting options for include taking the hard to recycle plastics and breaking it down into diesel fuel and natural gas being explored by Boise as told in this story.

      • Options like this will only be possible if our community is investing in recycling and like efforts with our public institutions. The current focus with priority to get more tonnage to the landfill excludes such opportunities and makes alternatives less economically viable. 

    Our local solid waste regime should be looking to expand services that serve our community not limit them with a clear goal of more trash to the landfill. This should include programs for household hazardous waste to protect our water (the terrible example of chromium), allow and encourage beneficial diversion of other items (like concrete and brick for soft fill or the less intensive construction and demolition landfill), and additional recycling options at and outside the transfer station such as additional drop-off sites for the Helena Valley. Many, probably most, residents do not use all of the tons of trash they have. That revenue to be accounted for in a way that allows these other services.

    There are other beneficial policies and actions to consider about plastic pollution locally and globally--another theme used in the pitch for option 2 to cancel the program. The public works director cited a bottle deposit as his solution; plastic bags bans and education have also been part of the discussion as alternatives to plastics recycling at the transfer station.  None of these other initiatives require the city to first cancel plastic recycling at the transfer station. All of them would only be helped by a genuine focus on beneficial diversion of waste at our public transfer station and in the related operations.  None of them start with a pennywise ton foolish elimination of service and access for recycling this community pays for and deserves in our public infrastructure and services. 

    While this issue is not formally up for public comment yet, public comment has been sought by the above memo to two city advisory groups already and will go to the city commission at some point. County residents are impacted too, especially those who self-haul and would like to recycle. One way to join the discussion is on Facebook with "End Plastics Pollution Helena."  You should also let your elected officials, including our Helena Citizen Council representatives, know you support the tax dollars you already pay for these services increasing not decreasing. Our community has a great opportunity to have more recycling but only if our public infrastructure is part of the effort. 

    - Matt E

    Helena Resident. Former City Commissioner. Recycling since freshman year at Carroll College. Owner of 406 Recycling. 

    p.s. I will add more resources to this page as time allows.

    Tuesday, January 23, 2018

    Snowplow Shutdown. Why is snow removal such a problem in Helena?

    Thank you, Mayor Collins, for acknowledging that snow management needs to be better in the City of Helena. Thank you to the commissioners seconding those comments as reported in today's Helena Independent Record

    Commissioner Noonan's comments, in particular, are indicative of the challenge the mostly new commission faces in working to address this issue: 

    "I feel frustrated," Noonan wrote, "but maybe we can find a different approach, as well as make some inroads into convincing staff we need an approach specific to this winter's specific circumstance."

    Commissioner Noonan is spot on that a specific approach is needed that depends on the actual conditions facing the city's public works department. And too, his hint that there is a challenge to getting upper city management to acknowledge the need for such as approach. Getting such acknowledgment, genuinely reviewing the current situation, and advancing management improvement will likely be very difficult for the part-time commission. 

    Today's response by the City Manager and Public Works Director echo those following "Carmageddon" in 2012 when more than a hundred accidents occurred including a police vehicle being hit six times trying to warn drivers on their way home as reported here. On that day, all city drivers for the city's trucks had already gone home for the day when the roads iced up later in the afternoon.
    "Carmageddon" in 2012.

    A self-review of snow plowing in 2014 by the City Manager, Public Works Director, and some other executive city staff concluded that Helena's bizarre "complaint driven" system could not be improved upon. Some of the correspondence around that review follows here:

    To truly improve snow plowing policy in Helena, the Commission will need to find a way to independently review the current operation. It is not fair for their time, nor the public they represent to have to be spent debating various actions such using de-icer that may improve things in some areas (a plowed intersection), or not work in another (most streets where we'd just get slush that would have an impact to some vehicles). Nor to pretend that the current "policy" works when much of town is covered in dangerous tundra packed down by cars for days or longer making a mockery of sidewalk enforcement, endangering anyone walking or driving on the streets, costing other departments, and damaging the clear roads with heavy garbage trucks that will need chains for weeks or more longer than necessary. Nor would it be fair to expect executive staff to review their own work.  

    A Helena family fights flooding
    in Spring 2015 while City Water Crews
    work by hand to clear blocked drains
    on a weekend with hand tools. Even with
    twenty or thirty trucks, it's not clear that this
    would have been prevented by the current
    plowing regime. How current resources are deployed,
     not whether they are available
    should be the first question.  
    Tracking the deployment, routes, and operations of the trucks would be a start. Doing so is affordable and common, even for many small businesses already. It would provide a clear picture of how many hours the trucks are deployed and might snow the real cost of not plowing initially. It would create a record that could be reviewed by an expert and hopefully set the groundwork for showing when and where city street trucks are plowing, sanding, and sweeping to allow residents to move their vehicles to help improve results. 

    Increasing transparency at the city overall will take longer but is long overdue. While it will be resisted by some management at the city, it will help the public follow and contribute to a better run city, allow commissioners to be more effective, and-hopefully-lead to more acceptance by some executive staff of the commission's role to bring forth ideas to improve services in our community. 

    The truck driver did an excellent job here but it was
    nearly a full week after the storm and they did not have
     the time or direction to come back for other streets
    leaving berms that damaged cars and endangered
    my neighbors who had to get out and help. If not
    been parked on the curb, one still has to shovel since
    plowing doesn't get close to the curb even on a 2nd pass.
    Why were only one or two trucks out the weekend before
    a holiday? Not everyone can, nor should have to afford,
    studded tires and all-wheel drive to get around town.  Not
    during the storm obviously, but why can't drivers come back
    and clear some streets so they are safer for months to come?
    There are always going to be challenges to snow removal based on weather, varied conditions across town, and resource constraints. However, this service, in particular, seems to have declined despite a "restructuring" of Public Works to include more admin, market-based pay increases, and utility rate increases well above inflation.  Further, we seemingly have a workforce of competent drivers on standby that can even be increased if needed and such need is acknowledged. Snow management in our winter climate is a good place find a positive approach to find a way to do things better. Something management, our commission, and our community can be proud of. 


    Matt E.

    Matt Elsaesser

    Helena, MT

    Priest River, ID. Go Spartans!
    A small town in North Idaho that plows snow from the sidewalks into the street and then plows all snow to the center of the street in the downtown and near schools. Contractors remove the snow later per a pre-arranged contract. Wouldn't something like this be better than having individuals with shovels or light-duty plows on ATV's fighting snow placed by a heavy vehicle or our bus system having to hire private parties to clear bus stops after city plows go by? 

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    Thankful for Helena's Railroad Quiet Zone, the new Benton Crossing, and the fiscally responsible governance that afforded this investment in safety.

    Next Tuesday, December 19th, Helena's Railroad Quiet Zone will take effect thanks to safety improvements at rail crossings throughout Helena. Engineers will continue to sound train horns anytime as needed for safety, but the requirement to sound horns at every crossing will be eliminated. This investment is fiscally responsible, supports quality of life throughout Helena, and includes a major safety improvement with an accessible pedestrian crossing at Benton Avenue along Centennial Trail and near city parks, the Bill Roberts Golf Course, and the Sunhaven Neighborhood. (The medians at other crossing prevent persons from intentionally driving around the crossing arms.) 

    The new crossing at Benton Avenue included a flashing beacon activated by users. 
    The reduction in noise for residents near the railroad tracks is dramatic, as shown in the following images from a 2011 feasibility study by Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson linked here.
    Current situation not including the substation portions of town impacted by train horns Doppler Effect. Image from this report.  

    Noise from train horns in Helena after a quiet zone is implemented. Image from this report.

    While I personally have rarely lost sleep due to train horns, I heard from who do Helenans across town and across the political spectrum while I served on the City Commission. Whether or not one falls into this category or not, there is another reason to be proud of your City Commission for advancing this investment. Most of the funds for the safety improvements came from a tax settlement that would have otherwise been directed to fund a new parks building and offices at the Bill Roberts Golf Course to the tune of 3 million dollars according to Helena's Comprehensive Capital Improvement Fund (CCIP). The funds, outlined here, instead went to the purchase of a large existing warehouse that meets the parks department's needs for office and warehouse space at much less cost, is in a better location, and provides additional space for several other departmentsThese funds also provided the cash to match a federal grant to purchase two new fire trucks and started a new program to fund solars panels for Helena residents. 

    Going forward, there is more to do to improve the quiet zone. A wayside horn should be installed at National alongside additional safety improvements for pedestrian, both items the Railroad Tax Increment Finance District can explore. The City of Helena and our public works should approach the railroad about finding a more creative solution at the Roberts Crossing where a spur line prevents a more affordable median to prevent folks from driving around the crossing arms. A removable median for the spur and/or relocating the entrance to the yard might be a lower cost option than a direction horn. 

    Thanks to the actions by a majority of your city commissioners, many Helena residents will soon sleep better and families can now safely cross Benton Avenue near the tracks.  $1.89 million dollars that could have gone to just one new building instead was leveraged for safety improvements near rail crossings, new firetrucks, and smart use of an existing warehouse costing 40% less than a new building and serving many city departments.  

    Thank you to all the commissioners who have supported this endeavor, city staff that implemented the project, and the engineers and contractors who did such a nice job, especially with the new crossing at Benton! 


    Matt E

    Matthew Elsaesser

    Tuesday, September 20, 2016

    "Centennial Trail Celebration Ride" Tonight in Helena! Family friendly shuttle from Montana Wild at 5:30pm, bike ride starts at 6pm!

    Centennail West Now Open!
    Friends of Centennial Trail
    Pictures from Centennial Trail West Kick-Off October 16, 2015, more details here.

    A project of Prickly Pear Land Trust

    Helena, Montana

    Centennial Trail Celebration Ride

    For Immediate Release:

    Join other Helena-area bicyclists on September 20, and celebrate the paving of several

    segments of Helena’s Centennial Trail by cycling from its current beginning, immediately

    northwest of Walmart, to its present western terminus at Montana Wild. A ribbon-cutting, a

    delicious Big Dipper ice cream cone, and a free public showing of the film, Inspired to Ride,

    follows. Everyone is welcome.

    Here are the details:

    The Centennial Trail Celebration Ride date is Sept 20, beginning at 6 pm. Anyone able

    to cycle five miles at a moderate-to- relaxed pace (5-10 mph) is welcome to join the ride. The

    ride should take about an hour. The trail travels along car-free paths and city streets. In places

    the path is graveled; most road-, town-, or mountain-bike riders should be able to comfortably

    negotiate the (few) uncompleted rougher sections of the trail.

    Cyclists begin the ride at 6 pm at the corner of Billings and Blaine (NW of Walmart). For

    those who wish to leave a car at Montana Wild, the ride’s finish, the Trail Rider Shuttle, Bike
     Directions to Montana Wild
    Helena's bus and bike-trailer, will leave Montana Wild at 5:30 pm for the ride’s start-point near

    Walmart. There’s room for about 30 riders on the shuttle.

    After the ride, and after ice cream, cyclists are encouraged to stay and enjoy the

    exciting, inspirational movie, Inspired to Ride. This family-friendly, 1 hour 28 minute long feature

    film was released in 2015. It follows 45 cyclists competing in the first Trans Am Bike Race, a

    self-supported sprint beginning in Astoria (OR) and ending in Yorktown (PA). This free showing

    is in conjunction with the Helena Bicycle Club’s September meeting.


    The Friends of Centennial Trail is a project of Prickly Pear Land Trust. FOCT supports

    the design, construction, completion, and ongoing maintenance of Helena’s backbone non-

    motorized trail, an east ̶ west pathway for walkers, runners, and bicyclists of all ages and



    [Press Release from Friends of Centennial Trail; images from earlier post on this blog or taken by author]