Sweeney, Commissioners meet to discuss Frontage Road rock slide


PHILIPSBURG – With a winter storm just passed and concern still high by residents in the area, more discussion was had this morning about the rock slide along the Drummond Frontage Road.

Montana House District 77 Representative Mark Sweeney was on hand during the Granite County Commissioner’s weekly meeting to discuss what could be done about the road and its future. Sweeney sits on the state’s Interim Transportation Committee, which held one of its regular meetings September 16 in Helena. He indicated that the committee was unable to address the Frontage Road situation in Drummond.

“We’re tasked with very specific things to work on,” said Sweeney as he spoke to the commissioners about the committee. “We’re not really in a position to do much except make phone calls and inquire as to what’s being done. Hopefully when we do that the people (in Helena) understand that it’s a matter of importance.”

But as the meeting progressed it became clear that a major issue with getting anything done in conjunction with the state was a lack of reciprocal communication by the department heads and their staff. Sweeney, along with commissioners Bill Slaughter and Scott Adler, expressed discontent with the response they got when making calls to any of the involved state offices.

“We have a great relationship with the guys that are actually out here and doing the maintenance,” said Slaughter. “But when it comes to the higher ups, we get nothing.”

Drummond Mayor Gail Leeper was on hand at the meeting, stating that in her attempts to get information that she hadn’t had such issues.

Slaughter also expressed that he felt the state should be helping fund work on Mullan Road when the Frontage Road becomes blocked. Mullan Road is a one-land dirt road that has a wash-boarded surface and a number of dangerous blind curves. During the more than four months that the Frontage Road was blocked, the state forced residents to either drive as far as 10 miles back to Drummond to access the I-90 or use Mullan Road to gain access at Bearmouth. But because the state did not post a “Detour” sign, Mullan Road was not given that designation, and therefore Granite County received no funding to help maintain the road.

In the end, Sweeney and the commissioner agreed to try and contact the director of the Montana Department of Transportation, Mike Tooley, to arrange an in-person visit to discuss what can be done with the Frontage Road and Mullan Road, the alternate route that residents are forced to take when the normal route is blocked.

The Drummond Frontage Road became blocked April 4, 2019 when a rock slide brought tons of material down on the road, making it impassable by vehicles of any kind. Cyclists using the road had to dismount and carry their equipment some 300 yards across the slide and underneath an unsafe hillside.

Residents living along the Frontage Road and in the canyons along its length contacted the Flint Creek Courier after receiving no response from calling state departments and agencies. The Courier was able to make contact with an MDOT technician who made assurances that the blockage would be cleared the week of August 26. It was not.

Sweeney made calls the following week and got similar assurances. The road remained unblocked until the Granite County Commissioners held a joint session with the towns of Drummond and Philipsburg at the Bearmouth Chalet. The Sunday before the meeting a contracted crew was sent to clear the road to a single lane for about 150 feet.

MDOT has stated that all options are on the table for the Frontage Road, including the possibility of abandoning the road altogether. The ramifications of that action are unclear for what that means for Granite County, while residents would be resigned to either using Mullan Road or driving back to Drummond for access.

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