For the week of August 4, 1999  thru August 10, 1999  

Spotlight on Highway 75 in Ketchum, county

Highway proposal upsets some at Ketchum session, pleases others

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has a lot of work to do before finalizing improvement plans for the entire state Highway 75 corridor, between Timmerman Junction and Ketchum. That became clear during a presentation by the ITD and contractor CH2M Hill to the Ketchum City Council Monday evening.

City hall was nearly full of residents who had questions on the current proposal—people who don’t want to see the highway change at all; and residents who just want to be better informed as plans become more concrete.

"You have just begun to talk about this in Blaine County," ex-Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seifert told the ITD and Boise-based CH2M Hill representatives. "No one knows what you’re talking about yet."

Following a presentation from CH2M Hill senior transportation engineer Ted Reynan, in which he recapped the proposed improvements to the entire valley and to Ketchum, impassioned public and council member comments ensued.

Councilwoman Chris Potters said she is very concerned about how the proposal could affect Hailey and Bellevue. Stoplights proposed for those cities would be designed to move traffic through the municipalities with only one stop, but the proposed highway designs for Ketchum would treat the area as a destination. The road could narrow to three lanes in Ketchum if current ideas are put into practice.

"It seems like (this proposal) is rushing people through Bellevue and Hailey to get them to Ketchum," Potters chastised.

Potters, who called this and previous ITD attempts to improve the highway "a war of attrition," said "this is like the biggest thing that’s happened to us ever. This is a precious place. I just want (the highway expansion) to be done right."

Potters declared the highway may not need to be widened at all. It could be made safer by adding stoplights and pullout and exit areas while maintaining its current size.

"You’re (driving) to paradise," she said. "Who cares how long it takes."

Ketchum resident Dick Meyer said he travels the highway every day and doesn’t feel there is a problem with the current situation.

"I think it’s time the governments starts looking at alternative forms of transportation," he said.

Others said the road improvements may be necessary but want to make sure they are done in an aesthetically pleasing way as possible.

"I’m for the optimum, aesthetically pleasing plan…It is a commuting corridor for a resort destination. What a wonderful thing it would be to give people arriving to the valley a great first impression," Ketchum resident Steve Cook said.

Cook also said those who rely on the highway for their commuting needs could benefit from a new, aesthetically pleasing highway.

"People would show up at work in better moods," he said.

Councilman David Hutchinson said he is completely in favor of construction of medians along the highway corridor if they are constructed correctly.

A properly designed median with correct plantings, correct width and correct curbs will be a boon to the valley, Hutchinson said. He said the safety gained from median construction will save lives on what is now a deadly road.

County Commissioner Len Harlig was present at the Ketchum meeting, but kept quiet most of the time. In a letter to the editor submitted too late to run in this week’s paper, however, he expressed dissatisfaction with the council’s discussion, which drifted to the entire county rather than just the city.

"…The majority of a more than two-hour discussion was devoted to commentary on how the cities of Bellevue and Hailey and the county should be planned. I believe the governing bodies and the residents of these three entities would probably prefer to determine their own future rather than have it decided in another municipality."

Harlig went on to write that he disagrees with citizens who believe the highway can be safely maintained and operated as it is.

Contrary to what some people at the meeting believed, public comment for the highway will not end on Aug. 4. The ITD will host another public meeting on the subject on an as-to-be-determined date in September, and the Blaine County Transportation Committee will continue to discuss improvements at its monthly meetings.

The transportation committee will meet on Aug. 26 at 7 a.m. in Ketchum City Hall.

ITD senior transportation planner Bob Humphrey said at the close of Monday’s meeting that no highway improvements will be made unless the ITD has the blessing of Wood River Valley municipalities.

"If we don’t have the support of the county and the cities, there’s a strong likelihood of us going away," he said.

One section of the highway, Alturas Drive (just north of Ohio Gulch) to Timber Way (just north of East Fork), is going to be widened to five lanes next summer. No medians will be used in the construction of this section of road.

Widening of another section, Timber Way to Elkhorn Road, is still pending, but ITD officials are attempting to combine that project with the Alturas to Timber Way section.

Councilman Hutchinson said that because the Timber Way to Elkhorn section is still pending, the city council would like to be involved in possible highway designs for that section.

These two sections of highway were targeted early to accommodate emergency medical services vehicles that will travel along the highway to the new St. Luke’s Hospital, which will be completed in the McHanville area in approximately 18 months.

Along those sections of highway, no alternative routes for emergency vehicles are available.


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