Public to ITD: at least replace Greenhorn Bridge
Government task force aims to reach consensus on Highway 75 improvements
By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer
ITD director Dwight
Bower fields questions about Highway 75 improvements as Q&A facilitator and local
businessman Bob Rosso looks on. (Express photo by Willy Cook)
A crowd of 100-plus applauded when Blaine County Commissioner Leonard
Harlig urged the Idaho Transportation Department to proceed with delayed plans to replace
the Greenhorn Bridge and expand state Highway 75 from Alturas Drive to Elkhorn Road.
An indication of the publics support of this phase of the state
highway agencys controversial road improvement plan surfaced during an ITD-led
question-and-answer session last Thursday in Hailey.
"We need to fast track the Greenhorn project and get it underway
this year," said Blaine County Commission chairperson Mary Ann Mix.
Longer range, and more contentious, questions havent yet been
answered by the ITD on highway design, mass transit alternatives and the environmental
impact highway expansion.
The meeting at the Wood River Middle School was organized by Rep. Wendy
Jaquet, D-Ketchum, in an attempt to reach a consensus between community leaders and ITD
officials on highway improvements.
The importance of the meeting was underscored by the presence of ITD
director Dwight Bower.
Under questioning from the public, Bower indicated the ITD would
consider redesigning the proposed five-lane-wide Greenhorn Bridgeif thats what
the public wants.
Work on the aging bridge, which had been expected to begin last fall,
probably wont start until this spring at the earliest, according to highway
"Weve heard from elected officials in Hailey and Bellevue
who said, lets get something done about the highway now," Jaquet
said. "Yet, in Ketchum we heard them say stop, lets wait and consider
alternatives. So were hearing different things throughout the valley."
The previous week, the Ketchum City Council endorsed a three-lane
alternative to the ITDs five lane proposal for the highway south of East Fork
The Citizens Transportation Coalition (CTC), a local highway activist
group, supports highway improvements but is pushing for a well engineered three-lane road
configuration in the Highway 75 corridor.
ITDs senior planner, Bob Humphrey, said during Thursdays
session that the highway agencys Boise-based engineering consultant firm, CH2M Hill,
is in the process of putting together a Highway 75 corridor study which should be
completed in February.
Humphrey said the study grew out of a 1997 Blaine County advisory
ballot in which 87 percent of voters indicated they were in favor of some form of highway
improvements. Based on traffic counts and projected growth, the study proposes widening
the highway from Timmerman Hill to Saddle Road over the next 20 years.
Humphrey said the consulting firm conducted traffic counts at 29
locations along the Highway 75 corridor from the junction with Highway 20 to Ketchum. This
data was then used to estimate current traffic and future forecasts by calculating the
number of additional dwellings that could be built in the Wood River Valley over the next
The study also reviewed public comment gathered at three corridor study
open houses held over the last year. Humphrey said the public "indicated, in general,
difficulty in traveling up and down the valley."
"The study is not a pie in the sky thing. CH2M Hill did some
in-depth evaluations. Based on public input and data gathered, a four-lane facility is
Humphrey said he backed CH2M Hills findings, which have been
questioned by the CTC and traffic consultants hired by the Ketchum City Council.
Many of the questions directed toward the ITD by elected officials and
the public during Thursdays meeting involved environmental studies associated with
Humphrey said the corridor study should not be seen as a blueprint for
the valley, but rather as part of an evolving environmental study process. He said it
would, in effect, be a springboard for additional discussion by the public, cities, county
and other highway consultants.
ITD engineer Devin Rigby said data collected in the corridor study will
be used for a federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. He said
mass transit alternatives and mitigation of the environmental impact of highway projects
must be addressed in the NEPA document. It will take one to three years to complete the
NEPA process, Rigby said.
ITD director Bower said environmental studies have been done and an
environmental document has been filed with the Federal Highway Administration for the
Greenhorn Bridge and Alturas to Timber Way projects, but not for the rest of the Highway
Federal highway officials agreed with the ITD last September that these
two phases of construction do not present significant environmental problems, according to
information presented at the meeting.
Bower said the ITD cannot get federal funds for highway projects for
the rest of the corridor until environmental studies have been completed and filed with
the federal government.
"Lawsuits could delay the project," Bower said. "We have
to complete an environmental document first and make sure the process is complete and
Following the meeting, CTC spokesperson Jan Edelstein said, "The
CTC applauds the ITD for moving on to the environmental component of the design process.
We hope the ITD will start soon and move expeditiously."
One outcome of the session was that an agreement was reached to form a
highway task force consisting of elected officials from Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue, Carey
and Blaine County. The panels goal: to reach a consensus on Highway 75 improvements.
A task force headed by Sun Valley City Council member Linda OShea
also was formed to examine alternative forms of transportation in the Wood River Valley.