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For the week of Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, 2000

Transportaton director to answer Highway 75 questions

Meeting is set for next week


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

Idaho Department of Transportation director Dwight Bower will be in the Wood River Valley next week to participate in a workshop with valley leaders and concerned citizens about a proposed widening of state Highway 75.

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m. at the Wood River Middle School in Hailey.

Three hours is planned for the meeting, but only the last 20 minutes is reserved for public comment, according to Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, the meeting’s organizer.

Bower, a former Colorado transportation official, "understands the sensitivity of issues surrounding highway expansion here in the Wood River Valley," Jaquet said.

In a telephone interview last week, Bower said he has "a pretty open mind to listening and trying to understand what people’s concerns are and translating those concerns into developing a safe and efficient transportation system that people can live with." "There needs to be an open discussion where people can state their concerns," he said. "The ITD needs to be sensitive to that."

Also attending the workshop will be Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, Rep. Tim Ridinger, R-Jerome, and staff members from the Idaho Transportation Department’s Shoshone regional office and its Boise-based engineering consultant firm, CH2M Hill.

Since last year’s unveiling of a Highway 75 corridor study—which proposes to widen the highway to five lanes from Timmerman Hill to Saddle Road over the next 20 years—many residents have expressed concern over the project’s impact on the valley’s lifestyle.

The concern led to the creation of the Citizens Transportation Coalition (CTC), a local highway activist group.

CH2M Hill based its study on projected growth and traffic forecasts, which, highway officials have indicated, translate into the need for a wider highway to ensure safety.

The CTC agrees that highway improvements are needed, but says consideration of alternatives and the project’s aesthetic impacts should be included in the study.

According to Jaquet, the workshop’s goal is to bring leaders of the community together to continue dialog about the highway in the context of the valley’s needs.

Jaquet said the two main highway issues are safety and maintaining the character of the valley.

"I believe it is important for our elected officials to work together to find a solution that addresses the safety and aesthetic concerns voiced by the residents of our county," Jaquet wrote in a memo to all Wood River Valley elected officials.

Jaquet said the highway debate requires more conversation on a public level and among city and county leaders to determine what that solution should be.

Bower emphasized the corridor study is still being drafted and that widening the highway to five lanes is only a proposal at this point.

"The ITD is charged with the responsibility to provide safe and efficient transportation for residents and visitors," he said. "Trying to balance those needs with aesthetic concerns is what we’re trying to do. "Instead of just coming in and saying this is what we want to do, we’re trying to make it a partnership between the ITD, elected officials and residents of the community."

Bower said all the problems and issues surrounding highway expansion in the Wood River Valley can’t be solved in one night, but will require discussion over a period of time.

CTC publicist Jan Edelstein said Bower comes highly recommended as being very accessible and an innovative transportation planner.

"We’re delighted that Jaquet has stepped in and worked to get Bower here to talk with public officials," Edelstein said. "We hope that he will also be open to the concerns expressed by various citizens of the valley.

"I’m told he was active during the early days of Aspen’s thinking about long-term transportation plans so he knows about resort communities."

Edelstein said planning for the future of transportation in the Wood River Valley should go beyond car counts, daily trips and traffic projections. "Lets talk about what this place is going to look and feel like in 20 years," she said in an interview.

Edelstein said the ITD has made its projections based on daily trips and the number of cars a highway of two, three, four or five lanes can carry.

"Going by the ITD’s projections, if you relied only on cars, a three-lane highway may not be adequate beyond the year 2012," she said. However, she added, "A well engineered three-lane highway can be adequate if you include alternatives."

Edelstein said the CTC is interested to hear from the ITD about what role alternative transportation methods will play in the long-term transportation plan.

"No matter what the solution, alternatives should be included," Edelstein said. "This will be a real change in where the corridor study was headed.

"The corridor study focused on one tool to address traffic in the Wood River Valley and that tool is pavement. That was the mindset, the direction. What we are hoping is that the ITD will now approach the corridor study with more tools in the tool box through the consideration of alternatives."

 

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