Highway 75 plan
ITD focus is on two ‘build’
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
How will it look? How will it
drive? How will it affect our quality of life?
Those are some of the
questions concerned local citizens are asking as they await the release of an
environmental-impact study on two competing proposals by the Idaho
Transportation Department to expand state Highway 75 through the Wood River
While many—but certainly
not all—agree that the highway should be widened in most areas of the valley,
some have raised questions about whether the designs under consideration are
appropriate for the rural and suburban lands that compose the Highway 75
corridor between Timmerman Junction--the Highway 75 intersection with U.S.
"I think we're on the
road to not getting the best solution," said Steve Wolper, co-founder and
current board secretary of Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth. "It's
like they're designing in a vacuum."
Utah-based consultant Parsons
Brinckerhoff is coordinating efforts with ITD and the Federal Highway
Administration to develop a draft EIS for two so-called "build"
proposals that would essentially enlarge Highway 75 to include four and five
traffic lanes through most of the 27-mile stretch from Timmerman to Ketchum. The
EIS will also study a third "no build" option that would essentially
leave the highway as it is. It is expected that the draft EIS will be released
for public review and comment by spring 2004.
PB and ITD since 2000 have
conducted a series of workshops and public meetings on the proposed expansion of
the highway under the federal National Environmental Policy Act process. In the
process the state and its consultant ultimately developed a list of four
"build" alternatives for consideration, before moving earlier this
year to reduce the list to two possible "build" options. Proposals
that were advanced for consideration and then dropped from the process included
one plan to develop an "enhanced" three-lane highway and another plan
to build an urban-style roadway with up to seven lanes.
The two remaining
"build" alternatives are physically identical, yet one calls for
designating one lane in each direction as a high-occupancy-vehicle lane that
would at certain times be allowed for use only by public transit vehicles and
cars with multiple people. The two alternatives both call for bus pullout areas,
right-turn lanes, acceleration and deceleration areas, and pedestrian
under-crossings at selected points.
Either of the two
alternatives would establish:
· From Timmerman
Junction to Gannett Road, one 12-foot-wide lane with an eight-foot-wide shoulder
in each direction, plus a 12-foot-wide passing lane in selected areas. The
proposed speed limit for the area is 55 miles per hour.
· From North Bellevue
to Fox Acres Road in Hailey, two 12-foot-wide lanes and one eight-foot-wide
shoulder in each direction, plus a center-turn lane at intersections with
Woodside and Countryside boulevards. In addition, the section would include a
four-foot-wide safety median that would widen to 14 feet at the two major
intersections. The proposed speed limit for the section is 45 mph.
· From North Hailey to
Elkhorn Road, two 12-foot-wide lanes in each direction, a continuous
14-foot-wide center-turn lane, plus one eight-foot-wide shoulder in each
direction. Where curbs and gutters were installed to mitigate impacts on
adjacent property owners, the highway would be 83 feet wide.
The center-turn lane would be
reduced to a four-foot-wide safety median from approximately 1,000 feet north of
Buttercup Road to a point just south of Ohio Gulch. In addition, a right-turn
lane would be added at key intersections, while the shoulders would be widened
to 14 feet in width where the highway would provide bus pullouts. The proposed
speed limit for the area is 45 mph to Hospital Road and 35 mph between Hospital
Road and Elkhorn Road.
· From Elkhorn Road to
Serenade Lane south of downtown Ketchum, different two-, three- and four-lane
designs are being considered. However, any improvements to the road would be
done within the existing 66-foot-wide right of way. The proposed limit for the
section is 35 mph.
· From Serenade Lane
to River Street in Ketchum, a "no build," two-lane and three-lane
option are all being considered for construction in the existing ITD right of
way. The proposed speed limit for the section is 25 mph.
The two alternatives propose
no changes to the existing five-lane highway or the existing speed limits in
central Bellevue and Hailey. Both alternatives also propose, based on traffic
projections for 2025, new traffic signals at Woodside Boulevard, Countryside
Boulevard, Buttercup Road and Ohio Gulch Road.
In addition, both
alternatives propose substantial retaining walls in two key locations. One wall
would be constructed in Bellevue on the west side of the highway between Spruce
Street and Birch Street.
A second wall would be
constructed on the west side of the highway just north of Broadway Run, south of
St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center. There, ITD and PB have planned a
seven-foot-high retaining wall that would extend for a 550-foot length "to
avoid having to cut into the escarpment and/or to prevent removing homes and
businesses opposite this location," noted PB project manager Diana Atkins.
PB has also noted that other
retaining walls would be necessary to support the sides of proposed pedestrian
under-crossings at Treasure Lane subdivision, Buttercup Road and Ohio Gulch
Road, and that one substantial mid-valley berm could be replaced by a short,
continuous retaining wall.
Except for a handful of
safety medians, no medians have been proposed for the highway corridor, in large
part because of objections from local emergency-services providers, highway
maintenance staff and some members of the public, Atkins noted.
PB recently initiated a
noise-impact analysis of the remaining proposals and expects to determine by
early August whether noise-mitigation measures—such as additional walls or
berms—would be necessary for either of the two "build" options.
Wolper of Smart Growth said
he sees several problems with the proposed designs, asserting recently that he
thinks PB and ITD may simply be seeking to implement a plan that is first and
foremost cost effective.
"What they are using for
criteria is, ‘What’s the least expensive thing we can do?’" he said.
Wolper said he thinks that a
new highway that could potentially feature noise walls, retaining walls, new
stop lights and seemingly few aesthetically acceptable traffic-calming measures,
such as islands, falls short of what could be done to develop a thoroughfare
that is functional and pleasing to the eye.
"You shouldn’t box
yourself in with six lanes of blacktop," he said. "There are a lot of
areas on that design that don’t need a center-turn lane, but it appears they
had made up their mind early."
Wolper said the alternatives
that were studied by ITD and PB lacked one type of design that would be superior
for the Wood River Valley. "My position is there should have been an ‘aesthetic-parkway
alternative,’ an alternative that considers realistic traffic flow
projections," he said, noting that the Wood River Valley region at buildout
is projected to have a population of 80,000. "You’re not going to be
driving 55 miles per hour. It’s going to be stop-and-go traffic."
Wolper said ITD should be
considering a broad range of "build" alternatives in the EIS, not just
two. "This is an opportunity to create something special that could
eventually enhance all forms of transportation," he said. "We need to
be thinking long term, including about how we might someday want something like
Christopher Simms, director
of outreach for Citizens for Smart Growth, said the organization supports the
HOV-lane concept, but is seeking additional evaluation of the design
alternatives. "It is the position of Citizens for Smart Growth that (ITD
and PB) have not completed the (NEPA) phase to revise and identify
alternatives," he said.
Simms said the organization
holds that PB has not adequately considered in its modeling the potential
impacts of the growth of public transit programs in the valley and the
implementation of a possible paid parking program in central Ketchum.
He noted that Smart Growth
has formally requested a detailed written document defining the
"build" alternatives, but has not yet received such a document.
"We want a full model that’s published or something that profiles the
full corridor length with text that can be analyzed," he said.
Simms said Smart Growth is
seeking an HOV-lane alternative, but objects to information circulated by PB
that suggests that an HOV design might not improve traffic flow. "There was
no recognition that that Wood River Rideshare even existed and no recognition
that Ketchum might implement paid parking," he said. "It just isn’t
Simms noted that Smart Growth
would also like to see a design that includes wildlife crossings at key points,
as well as roundabouts in some locations in lieu of traffic lights. "We
support as narrow of a roadway as possible," he said. "We support a
model that will move people and not just cars."
Beth Callister, executive
director of Wood River Rideshare, said she would also like to see a more
detailed description of the two "build" alternatives. "The
descriptions have been pretty general," she said.
Callister noted that she is
hopeful that continuing research of the HOV model will consider the possible
beneficial effects of improved public transit. In addition, she said she would
like to see the NEPA process inspire changes to the highway in central Hailey
and Bellevue. "The crosswalk treatments being proposed in the build
alternatives are disappointing," she noted. "There are great design
solutions out there that the cities should be looking at to help calm and
beautify their Main Streets."
Atkins noted that ITD has
requested that PB review how paid parking in Ketchum could affect the forecasts
for highway travel. She also noted that ITD has asked PB to prepare a
"scope and budget to survey the railroad corridor with the intent that this
survey will enable preservation of the corridor for future non-highway