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

Paint a picture

While engineers are supposedly conducting a study of the entire length of State Highway 75, the bulldozers are already warming up.

Construction of five lanes between Ohio Gulch and East Fork is on deck for next summer regardless of public sentiment, transportation engineers told the Ketchum City Council on Monday

Extension of five lanes to Elkhorn Road could occur just as fast to accommodate the new hospital.

It seems like five lanes suddenly hatched full grown.

Anyone who feels he or she doesn’t know what’s going on, or can’t visualize how an expanded State Highway 75 will look, or can’t tell where it will lie is in good company.

The highway "improvement" process is shutting out public comment while ostensibly encouraging it. Catch 22.

The pending five-lane expansion south of Ketchum is the product of months of 7 a.m. meetings between transportation officials and an ad hoc committee that included Ketchum City Councilwoman Sue Noel and Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig. Few people knew about the meetings and fewer attended.

When residents finally figured something was up, 31 of them showed up last week at one of the less-than-edifying 7 a.m. confabs.

On Monday night, the Ketchum City Council told surprised engineers and committee members to wait just a darn minute.

Council members told a grumpy Commissioner Harlig that they and Ketchum’s residents should have been consulted about the pending expansions.

Council members and the public asked tough questions about highway safety, traffic counts and designs. They were admonished to keep their questions within the confines of their city limits—a tried and true divide-and-conquer strategy.

Apparently the fact that five-lanes studded with stoplights would suddenly become one lane in Ketchum was not supposed to concern the council.

It was apparent at Monday’s meeting that key ingredients—-pictures and maps of a larger highway—are missing. No one has a clue what the highway will look like. Everyone is left to imagine the worst.

In 1974, before powerful personal computers, state engineers and artists put together a complete book of plans and illustrations of a valley freeway, which was rejected. In 1999, with personal computers and cheap software everywhere, not one illustration of the proposed five-laner has been presented.

Today, people commonly "walk through" 3-D images of homes before they build or buy. It’s not too much to expect planners to give valley residents the opportunity to "test drive" new stretches of highway—before they are built. It’s not too much to expect good illustrations that show the impact of various highway options on the narrow valley’s precious landscape.

Two weeks ago, this newspaper asked state transportation officials to stake the width of the new highway with poles alongside the existing highway. The newspaper promised to publish photos to allow people to visualize five lanes.

One state transportation official agreed, but higher-ups overruled him.

Highway 75 needs improvements—but which ones remains to be seen. And seen they should be. Planners should paint the valley a picture long before the bulldozers arrive.


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