Selling the widening of Highway 75
"Good ol days" of highway planning are long gone
There was a time in Idaho, highway planners recall, when
roads were planned and approved by state and local agencies, and then constructed with
little public involvement.
Transportation engineer Theodore Reynen refers to that era as "the
good ol days" of road building, well before the advent of the environmental
movement, the politics of slow growth, calls for alternative forms of transportation and a
host of other issues that can turn road construction into a political campaign.
Reynen is a senior transportation engineer with Boise-based CH2M Hill,
a consulting firm selected by Idahos highway agency to produce a study on improving
the busy state Highway 75 corridor between U.S. Highway 20 and Ketchum.
The study, begun last January and for which the Idaho Transportation
Department (ITD) paid approximately $125,000, is expected to be completed by next
February. CH2M Hills mission is to project highway construction needs through the
year 2018. An examination of this magnitude is unique in the state.
"A corridor level study hasnt been done in Idaho,"
Reynen said in a recent telephone conversation from his Boise office.
To be sure, the study wont be completed for several months. But
so far, based on his firms analysis, Reynen said, "I dont believe you can
handle the transportation needs of the [Wood River] valley without widening Highway
Reynen, CH2M Hill transportation engineer Betsy Roberts and Robert
Humphrey, a Shoshone-based ITD senior transportation planner, have been visiting Blaine
County governing groups and chambers of commerce this year in an effort to establish a
dialogue on the volatile issue of highway expansion.
Two public or "open house" meetings have been heldone
on Feb. 4 and the other on June 29, both at the old Blaine County Courthouseaimed at
getting some feedback from Blaine County residents. A thirdand possibly
lastopen house is expected to be held in October. A scheduled Sept. 22 public
session has been cancelled, Reynen said.
Many valley residents apparently support widening Highway 75 in the
interest of safety, which ITD planner Humphrey underscores is the No. 1 issue to be
addressed before any work can go forward.
Others, however, are apprehensive at the thought of a five-lane ribbon
of concrete cutting through the scenic valley. Indeed, a Citizens Transportation Committee
recently was formed to scrutinize some of the same issues that are before the state and
its consulting firm.
Highway watchdogs view the imminent replacement of the Greenhorn Bridge
as the first step in a more comprehensive highway widening plan. But transportation
officials deny that, saying the Greenhorn project has been in the planning process for a
couple of years.
Replacement of the aging 24-foot-wide bridge with an 82-foot-wide span
is expected to take place in early October. Then, probably next spring, plans call for
widening the highway to five lanes between Alturas Drive (near Ohio Gulch) and Timber Way,
a 2.44-mile distance. The mostly federally funded price tag for the entire project: $5.4
Negotiations are going on for slivers of rights of way along this short
corridor. Nine private landowners are involved plus one patch of land over which the state
Point person for the negotiations is veteran Blaine County Commissioner
Len Harlig. Asked to recall how he rather than a state representative became the lead
negotiator, Harlig said in a recent conversation that the decision stemmed from an effort
a couple of years ago to accelerate replacement of the bridge, viewed as a traffic
bottleneck and a safety concern.
The state, Harlig recalled, agreed to speed up the project if the
county would kick in $500,000 of the price tag. The commissioners approved the funds, he
said, and the state-county agreement that emerged included Harlig as the point person for
rights of way negotiations.
"It was the decision of the commissioners to have me do it,"