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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8065 Voice
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


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For the week of June 26 - July 2, 2002


Where’s the three-lane option?

Two years ago, Walter Kulash, a nationally respected veteran traffic engineer told a packed house that a well-engineered three-lane highway could carry as much traffic as efficiently and safely as a larger highway.

He busted the myths that urban roadways like State Highway 75 through the Wood River Valley are inherently safer or faster with more travel lanes.

Yet, two years later a new three-lane highway is nowhere to be found as an option for State Highway 75.

Consultants for the Idaho Transportation Department are showing off reams of renderings with options for the configuration of five lanes up the valley. Yet, there’s nothing in the way of a better three-lane.

The consultants maintain that a three-lane is still an option, albeit an invisible one. The option needs to be made visible.

As designed these days, three-lane and five-lane highways are misnamed. All are bigger than their descriptions.

A three-lane highway includes two lanes of travel, a center turn lane, right turn lanes at key access points, shoulders and clear zones as wide as travel lanes.

A five-lane highway includes all of these plus two more travel lanes.

Five-lane designs will be the subject of a second public meeting in Ketchum in July. The designs depict a highway that will be a little less than 45 yards wide—nearly half a football field in some places.

The width creates problems.

For example, people who live west of the highway are wondering how they and their kids will ever be able to cross five lanes of high-speed traffic to get to the valley’s bike trail, which is on the east side.

It’s also unclear if the existing highway right of way is wide enough to accommodate a five-lane the length of the valley. No one has yet revealed where additional rights-of-way would have to be purchased or what the impact would be to adjacent neighborhoods.

Ketchum city officials are wondering what will happen when two lanes turn to one lane just before the narrow bridge over Trail Creek. They also are wondering what the new highway will mean for downtown given that consultants are suggesting that the city should look at Second Avenue to divert traffic from Main Street.

Other public officials have assumed that a future valley-wide bus system will be feasible only with a five-lane highway. However, a five-lane highway that encourages car travel will make a mass transit system less likely, not more likely, in the five years or so it will take for a new five-lane to fill up.

The public shouldn’t be asked to offer its opinion while blindfolded. The consequences for the valley’s quality of life are too serious. Wise consideration is possible only if there’s a good alternate plan for comparison.

ITD consultants should provide facts and design options for a well-engineered three-lane. They should provide an honest demonstration of why it will—or won’t—work.

The valley deserves to be able to explore all the options and have a clear picture of the consequences of any new design¾before the bulldozers arrive.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.