Friday, May 30, 2008

Panel: Highway work should start in north

Regional transportation committee suggests priorities be switched

Express Staff Writer

The Wood River Regional Transportation Committee is recommending that construction on the state Highway 75 expansion project be started in the north valley rather than in the south as earlier proposed by the Idaho Transportation Department.

"We all know that most of the jobs are up north and that's where the traffic is," said Ketchum Mayor and committee Chairman Randy Hall during a committee meeting Thursday at the Blaine County Courthouse.

ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby responded that a recently completed environmental impact statement for the project is a blueprint for what and how work will be done, but does not specify the order in which construction tasks are accomplished.

"We have that latitude," Rigby said.

The start of construction is still at least three years away, so the committee and ITD have plenty of time to sort through the details. Because of funding uncertainties, the project will have to be constructed piecemeal anyway.

The project is expected to cost about $200 million, but only $22 million is now earmarked. That money will be used for right-of-way acquisitions, wetland mitigation and design work.

The Highway 75 expansion project has been in the planning stages for about 10 years. The project encompasses a 27-mile stretch of highway from Timmerman Junction to Saddle Road in north Ketchum.

The preferred alternative identified in the EIS is to construct a four-lane highway from Bellevue north to Ketchum and to build a widened two-lane roadway from Bellevue south to the junction.

Center turning lanes are to be constructed throughout the length of the project, which also provides for intersection improvements, two bridge replacements, new pedestrian crossings and transit bus pullout areas.

Rigby said it's uncertain when additional funding needed for completion of the project will be available.

"The crystal ball to what the federal government will do, I can't predict that," he said.

Much of the funding for the project is expected to come through the Federal Highway Administration, but Rigby said some state funding might be available in the future if vehicle registration fees or state fuel tax rates are increased.

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