Friday, October 22, 2010

City: Widen highway to go slower?

Council and mayor advise state to not lower speed limit

Express Staff Writer

The current speed limit on state Highway 75 from Ketchum to Hailey is 55 mph, but the Idaho Transportation Department plans to reduce it to 45 mph after the road expansion, which has Ketchum and other city leaders upset. Photo by David N. Seelig

Ketchum's city leaders aren't accepting the state's plan to lower state Highway 75's speed limit from Ketchum south.

"It's just so counterintuitive," said City Councilman Baird Gourlay to Idaho Transportation Department planners at a council meeting Monday. "We're widening the road to go slower. It's an oxymoron."

The other council members and mayor agreed.

"I guess I'm just not seeing the wisdom of it," said Mayor Randy Hall.

The 2008 environmental impact study for the planned 27-mile highway expansion from Timmerman Junction to Ketchum determined that the speed limit on the main stretch of roadway, where motorists can now legally cruise at 55 mph, would drop to 45 mph. Not only that, but the 45-mph zone north of Hospital Drive—near St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center—will drop to 35 mph.

Mike Scott, project manager for ITD, explained the three reasons behind the speed reduction. He said that to have a 55-mph speed limit after the expansion would require about 7 feet more right-of-way on each side of the road. The faster cars go, the more space needed in case a vehicle veers off the asphalt.

Scott said lower speeds would also mitigate noise levels and lessen the number of wildlife collisions by increasing reaction time.

Councilman Larry Helzel questioned the need for a lower speed limit to reduce noise if ITD is also building a noise-reduction wall. ITD's plans call for a 610-foot-long, 8-foot-high noise-reduction wall adjacent to the Gypsy Mobile Home Park immediately south of St. Luke's.

"I would urge you to not evoke the proverb 'to kill an ant with a sledgehammer,'" Helzel said.

The ITD hasn't been asking communities whether they want the noise wall, but has just been requesting feedback on wall designs. The Blaine County Commission unanimously rejected the noise wall on Aug. 17, but ITD, a state agency, is not bound by local regulation and can still build it.

Scott said the Federal Highways Administration is considering the county's recommendation for no noise wall. The Ketchum City Council made the same move as the county, and encouraged ITD to use berms and landscaping to lessen road noise if a wall is needed. ITD's design options are either a timber-faced or rock wall.

In addition to the noise wall, ITD is also proposing a 10-foot-high retaining wall more than 200 feet long to be built south of St. Luke's where the west edge of the roadway is close to a hillside. Design options are the same, but the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission said it liked neither, suggesting a more natural design of dry-set boulders.

Scott said Monday that this would require too much land.

However, the City Council had the same opinion as the P&Z, wanting a more natural retaining wall, considering that this stretch of highway is within a scenic corridor.

Scott said he'd talk with the Federal Highways Administration.

Trevon Milliard:

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