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For the week of May 24 through May 30, 2000

Stretch of five-lane highway revived

Ketchum objects to ITD plan


"People think that a five-lane highway will be faster and safer, and we know that’s not true."

Dave Hutchinson, Ketchum City Council


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

A five-lane plan for a 2.6-mile stretch of state Highway 75 is back on the front burner.

Amid protests from the Ketchum City Council and the Wood River Valley’s Citizens Transportation Coalition (CTC), the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) drafted a revised plan this spring for construction of five lanes of highway between Ohio Gulch and an area just north of East Fork Road (Alturas Drive to Timber Way).

Construction, beginning with replacement of the Greenhorn bridge, is expected to begin this fall, ITD district engineer Devin Rigby said in an interview Monday.

The road widening plans will move forward pending input from the city of Ketchum, Rigby said. Ketchum officials have already endorsed ITD’s plans for a 64-foot-wide bridge, which could be four or five lanes.

But during a noon meeting at Ketchum City Hall on Monday, city council members called the revised, five-lane plan for the highway unsatisfactory.

After working with various highway consultants over the past year in an attempt to offer educated feedback to the ITD on highway expansion issues, council members are adamantly opposed to highway expansion to five lanes.

"There will be more deaths. There will be more injury. It will not be a safer highway," Councilman Randy Hall said in an interview yesterday.

Consultants told the council over the past year that people will drive faster on a wider highway, thereby increasing accidents. Also, a proposed stoplight at the East Fork Road intersection will cause an increase in rear-end accidents, consultants said.

At the core of the debate, however, is a finding last fall by the ITD, in conjunction with other state and federal agencies, that the project would not require an environmental analysis (EA) under the National Environmental Protection Act. Instead, the agency determined that the project’s environmental review could be done under the less extensive "categorical exclusion."

However, Chuck Carnohan, ITD District 4 senior environmental planner, said in an interview yesterday that the environmental review of the project was virtually at the level of an EA.

"We could have just as easily called it an EA," he said. "We got overwhelming public reinforcement to go ahead. The controversy has come up after the fact."

But Ketchum city attorney Margaret Simms contended at the Monday meeting that according to federal law, ITD must consider the entire highway project—from U.S. Highway 20 to Saddle Road.

"It says that interdependent projects shall be examined as one," she said.

Hall, speaking only for himself and not his fellow council members, said during the meeting that he would vote in favor of a Ketchum lawsuit to straighten the matter out if it comes to that.

"I hope we don’t have to get to that point," he said. "[But] we believe strongly that the process hasn’t been followed, and it needs to be followed."

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The primary difference between the original and newly released expansion proposals will be in the way the road’s lanes will channel traffic.

The new plan proposes that two north-bound lanes would travel the length of the stretch, and one lane would travel south with a nearly continuous turn-off and/or deceleration lane to its right. A center turn lane would travel along the length of the stretch, and a traffic light would be installed at the East Fork Road intersection.

Last year’s plans included two lanes traveling north and south with a center turn lane. The difference between the two is in a matter of striping, Rigby said.

Rigby said the new plan reflects the opinions of local officials who met several times over the winter on the subject. The so-called Highway 75 advisory council consisted of an elected official from each city in the valley. It was formed to try to reach consensus across the valley on highway expansion plans.

Hall was the only participant in those meetings not to advocate a five-lane highway.

The remainder of the highway corridor is not yet planned, Carnohan said. He said it is awaiting an EA or a more extensive environmental impact statement (EIS), a process that should begin late this summer.

At the Monday meeting, city council members made it clear that they are aware of and concerned about the public’s scrutiny in response to their involvement in the issue.

"We don’t want to be King Ketchum," Councilman Maurice Charlat said. "I’m very concerned about the public perception."

That doesn’t mean, however, that the council will back out of the debate.

In order for the public to better understand where they are coming from, council members decided to write a position paper on highway expansion that will be completed in about a month, Councilman David Hutchinson said.

Also, they will attempt to organize a joint meeting with the Blaine County Commissioners, they said.

"People think that a five-lane highway will be faster and safer, and we know that’s not true," Hutchinson said, referring to the input the council has received from consultants.

"If we went to the community and said we’re going to build a slower, more dangerous highway, what would they say?" Hutchinson asked rhetorically.

"We’re not trying to shoot from the emotional hip here," he added. "We’re trying to do the right thing."

 

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