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For the week of May 24 through May 30, 2000

ITD short-circuits highway discussions

Last month, the expansion of any portion of Highway 75 to five lanes was off, pending completion of a thorough environmental analysis of the entire valley corridor.

This week, expansion is on. Idaho Department of Transportation engineer Devon Rigby revealed to the Ketchum City Council that construction of five lanes a mile before and after the Greenhorn Bridge will begin in the fall.

The 1930s vintage bridge—a death trap waiting to snap—has been in need of replacement for many years. It is narrow and dangerous at posted speeds, especially when oncoming traffic includes an 18-wheeler. The approaches to the bridge are perilous as well. However, bridge replacement in and of itself does not require paving to a five-lane standard. The first highway bridge south of Ketchum is proof of that.

The ITD will install five-lanes worth of asphalt and stripe it for three. From the air, the stretch of highway will look like a small snake that ate a big rodent. The ITD has decided to build the section without benefit of its own corridor study and without benefit of a thorough environmental study.

The ITD has completed only the most cursory study on this stretch of highway. Worse, it has steadfastly refused to stake the highway right of way or to stake the finished width of a five-lane and its shoulders to let everyone get an idea how it will affect the valley.

Community discussion on real options for the highway began just last year with the beginning of the yet-to-be-released Highway 75 corridor study.

As a result of that process, a citizens group formed to review concerns about the impact of a large highway on the valley. The group is actively seeking to work with the ITD on reducing impacts.

Ketchum hired its own engineers to search for the best alternative.

Five lanes of pavement in the middle of the valley will short-circuit these discussions and efforts. It will cut the public process off at the knees.

Everyone wants a good highway. Everyone wants it to be safe, and no one wants to destroy the valley with an ill-advised design.

It’s a good thing the ITD engineers aren’t doctors. Their highway solution is like doling out painkiller to a patient, but ignoring his broken leg. It only addresses part of the problem.

The valley deserves better.

Studies that will evaluate the best design for this special valley are still pending. The ITD should help the valley reach its dual goals of safety and preservation instead of sticking it with five lanes before all the data is in and the process is complete.


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