By ADRIAN JAWORT - For The Outpost
In the first scene of Douglass Adam’s classic 1979 book, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” protagonist Arthur Dent finds himself in an impromptu debate to stop a bulldozer from demolishing his house in order that a bypass be built.
As Mr. Dent lies in front of the bulldozer in protest, a local bureaucratic official named Mr. Prosser tells him, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to accept it; this bypass has got to be built, and it’s going to be built!”
Mr. Dent tells Mr. Prosser that the first time he’d heard of the plan was the previous day, and his sentiments are likely how Billings’ Mary Street residents felt when they saw land surveyors last year marking their private land for the proposed four-lane bypass scheduled to run through their quiet suburban neighborhood.
Several options were discussed about where to place the long proposed bypass from Lockwood to the Billings Heights, but the Mary Street route adjoining the end of Bench Boulevard raised concerns when it was unveiled last year.
“It was not in the study,” said Mary Street resident Brent Cathey. “We were definitely blindsided by it.”
However, if the Mary Street bypass plans go through, Cathey will have a four-lane highway going directly through his front driveway on top of having his new pole barn building garage demolished to make way for it.
Residents say it makes no sense for the bypass to be in a residential neighborhood, and say it does make sense to move it slightly farther north through an old gravel yard as another plan had it instead of demolishing what Cathey said would be five to 13 houses and a picturesque nature viewing area.
In response to being left in the dark, Cathey and other residents created a Save Mary Street campaign.
“We sent a petition around opposing this,” Cathey said. “And out of the 450 Mary Street residents we asked, not one person refused to sign it.”
Clayton Fiscus, state legislator for House District 46, lives in the neighborhood and created red signs now prevalent all over the area that say, “Save Mary.” Also included on the signs is the website www.SaveMaryStreet.com.
“These signs let them know there is going to be no letup,” Fiscus said.
Fiscus wrote House Bill 383, which would require a 750-foot deep buffer area between the single-family, built-up zone of a city and interstate highways and bypass routes. He argues that by definition what is being proposed on Mary Street isn’t even a bypass.
“It’s an interstate highway with 10,000 cars a day through a residential neighborhood,” said Fiscus. “This is not a bypass. The definition of a bypass is to circumvent the city and not affect the lifestyle and homeowners and traffic. This is in the city limits.”
As the owner of Fiscus Realty, Fiscus noted that the property value of the area would quickly degenerate with a highway in everyone’s front yard.
Funds allotted for area roads must be used by 2020, and the price tag runs at $112 million, according to www.SaveMaryStreet.com.
The website asks, “Are we going to spend $112 million and destroy 13 homes so someone located in East Lockwood can save 7.6 minutes to travel to the Northern Portion of Billings Heights? This road will result in no time savings to someone traveling from West Lockwood to the South Portion of Billings Heights.”
While touring the area, Fiscus noted the lack of traffic. “Do you see how many cars are out here today?” he said. “It’s void of them. This is a simple, quiet street, and it’s been that way since 1905.”
“I don’t think anybody along here wants that son of a bitch to come through here,” local resident Bob Untermeyer said. He was perturbed a four-lane road going through his yard would disrupt his ready supply of groundwater just under the soil’s surface.
“Have you seen any plan?” Ostermeyer asked Fiscus. “How are we supposed to even drive out of here?”
Such queries directed at the Department of Transportation are often met with stonewalling, residents claim.
“They don’t communicate with us,” Cathey said. “It’s an unfortunate thing, and very unfortunate situation.”
Asked at a stakeholders’ meeting in 2011 about how much say residents have in the project, planners answered, “Your input is considered. Some input is more valuable than other input. … Simply stating that you don’t want the project on or near your property is good for us to understand, but is not as valuable. No matter where you put a new road, it will impact somebody.”