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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

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. 

For the week of September 4 - 10, 2002


Highway Surprise

Highway Surprise is not served at any local eatery, but residents could find themselves dining on it daily if they don’t pay attention. It’s one of the most unpalatable dishes in America.

In public meetings this fall, residents will be asked to evaluate what widening State Highway 75 to include five lanes of pavement plus shoulders will do to the valley’s quality of life. It’s hard to know, but there are clues aplenty.

Aerial photographs of the valley floor laid over with highway widths drawn to scale were displayed this summer in presentations by the Idaho Transportation Department’s consultants. The documents paint a picture everyone should understand before they endorse the only highway improvement option being explored.

The Funnel: The highway as drawn is not a five-lane highway all the way to Ketchum. It’s really a funnel, widest near Bellevue and pinched down to the neck (Trail Creek Bridge) as it enters downtown Ketchum.

The highway would narrow to four lanes near the Elkhorn light, then narrow again to the two and three existing lanes through Rheinheimer Ranch, then widen to three or four lanes at Serenade Lane with a new bridge at Trail Creek as the road enters Ketchum.

Conclusion: The highway is not the high-speed straight shot into Ketchum of which commuters dream.

Width: Five lanes won’t fit into the existing highway right of way in several places between Hailey and Ketchum, so land will have to be condemned and purchased. In other places, a wide highway will affect the bike path.

North of Bellevue the highway would fall very close to the bike path. Not only would it impact the experience of cyclists in the summer, it could constrain use by snowmobiles in the winter because the shoulder would cut into the slope of the old rail bed used by snowmobiles.

North of Hailey, it’s a tight squeeze. Drawings show backyards and front yards of homes near the highway transformed into steep shoulder sections. The highway consumes half of the existing Idaho Power substation, portions of existing berms and fences.

Rheinheimer Ranch: Legal constraints on highway development through historic sites will keep the highway in its present form through this area.

South of Ketchum near Cold Springs, plans call for the sheep easement, which parallels the highway on the west, to run onto a narrow elevated path. A retaining wall would support the path.

The highway would go where the easement is now. This would put it beneath a steep rocky area plagued by snow slides every spring.

The new highway may also displace local workers from a number of trailer homes near the highway in this area.

Ketchum Surprise: The existing highway right of way runs through half of Ski View Lodge’s little office building.

Engineers are torn between constructing full-width lanes or narrower lanes that would allow construction of sidewalks on both sides of the road in this area.

They’re also debating what to do with the narrow two-lane bridge over Trail Creek.

Crossing the highway is a problem for which no one has yet proposed an answer.

People who live west of the highway will want to cross to get to the bike path that parallels the highway on the east. However, there are no key collection points for crossings because streets do not connect subdivisions along the highway. All are separate entities.

Engineers concede that crossing five lanes of moving traffic can be a life-threatening experience.

In Hailey and Bellevue, they are looking at center safety islands that might make crossings safer for pedestrians.

Noise is another issue. Consultants recently began musing about highway noise levels. Greater numbers of cars in more lanes make more noise.

Increased noise could trigger federal requirements for noise reduction measures that could range from berms to walls. Given the narrowness of the existing right of way, it’s a good bet that walls would be on the top of the list because they would be cheap compared to any other option. Maybe engineers have new tricks, but the only noise barriers we’ve seen are of the L.A. freeway variety.

Induced traffic: By now, every transportation planner knows that bigger highways cause more traffic. Why? Because an easier commute encourages people to live farther from their jobs.

In Blaine County’s case, this phenomenon will create pressure on Blaine County to allow high-density subdivisions in the Bellevue Triangle.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires transportation departments to analyze such impacts, but so far consultants have done little except to say the valley will grow.

It’s clear that a five-lane highway will have far-reaching consequences—even some that can’t be predicted. Are the tradeoffs worth it? The answer to that question will make or break the valley for years to come.



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