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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 11 - 17, 2003


Highway 75 plan 
is evolving

ITD focus is on two ‘build’ options

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 Valley.

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. 20--and Ketchum.

"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 light rail."

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 accurate."

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 uses."


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