Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Officials seek help for highway funding

Express Staff Writer

Elected officials in the Wood River Valley have appealed to U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, for help in obtaining funding for the state Highway 75 expansion project.

"Improvements to SH75 are critical to the future of Blaine County," the officials stated in a letter in January.

The letter was signed by Blaine County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen, Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, Hailey Mayor Rick Davis, Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson and Carey Mayor Rick Baird.

Local officials learned last week that the highway expansion project would not qualify for the multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package that's being developed by Congress because the project is not ready for actual construction.

The project involves widening the highway along the 27-mile stretch between Timmerman Hill and north Ketchum. The Idaho Transportation Department has $28 million available for design, wetland mitigation and right-of-way acquisition but needs an estimated total of $200 million to complete the project.

"The roadway has met its capacity," the letter states. "With the combination of residential, commercial, tourist and commuter traffic, SH75 comes to a standstill nearly every morning and afternoon. Congestion like this produces unsafe travel conditions, adds travel hours and stress to commuters, slows the delivery of goods and services between our communities and the region, wastes energy and has a significant impact on residents' quality of life, including environmental factors."

The local officials also wrote that expansion of the highway will benefit the entire state of Idaho.

"Given the economic importance and visibility of Blaine County within Idaho, it will have positive impacts on local, regional and state economic conditions. In addition, it will improve access to public lands within and beyond our county."

Funding for highway projects mainly comes from the Federal Highway Administration and is funneled through the Idaho Transportation Department.

"Since Congress routinely recognizes special needs that states are unable to meet, we hope you will be able to assist us successfully," the letter concludes.

Terry Smith:

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