Following a two-car accident on Oct. 27 at Timmerman Junction south of Bellevue, four Blaine County mayors and Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen have asked the Idaho Transportation Department for faster action on development of a plan to improve safety at the intersection.
The request was in a letter dated Nov. 4 addressed to ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby. It states that in light of a "Timmerman Hill Junction study" currently underway by the ITD, the county leaders are offering a venue for public dialogue on the issue.
The intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway 75, where an upgrade to its rest area is near completion, is the key gateway to the Wood River Valley, through which most visitors who arrive by car and some 3,000 commuters pass daily.
"While we understand that design and engineering plans will be necessary to implement long-term actions, we are hopeful that those can be started fairly rapidly after the long-term actions are identified and adopted," the letter states. "We do not want to see any unnecessary delays and will look to the State to expedite safety improvements at this deadly intersection."
The letter asks that the state develop short-term solutions in three to six months and long-term solutions within two years of the release of its study.
The letter was also sent to Gov. Butch Otter, state Reps. Wendy Jaquet and Donna Pence, state Sen. Michelle Stennett and ITD board Chair Darrell Manning.
During a Hailey City Council meeting Monday, Councilwoman Carol Brown said the letter was initiated by the city of Hailey.
"In under four days, every mayor said 'yes' [to signing the letter]," she said.
According to Idaho Transportation Department statistics, Timmerman Junction was the scene of 26 traffic accidents between the years 2000 and 2009. ITD had reported this summer that 37 accidents occurred at the junction during that time, but has more recently stated that the higher figure referred to accidents "in the area." None of the accidents at the junction during that 10-year period resulted in fatalities, but at least two fatal accidents have occurred there—one in 1997 and one in the late 1980s, ITD said.
"The accident rate at the junction is unacceptable," the letter states. "Improved safety at this junction is of paramount importance to the residents and the elected officials of the Wood River Valley."
Bellevue resident Greg Cappel, 53, a victim of the Oct. 27 accident who was flown to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise for treatment, was released from the hospital in good condition late last week. Cappel's car was stopped in the eastbound lane of U.S. Highway 20 when a car driven by Kenneth Ruzicka, 56, of Boise, which was stopped in the opposite westbound lane, pulled into the path of a southbound pickup driven by James Pickering, 48, of Shoshone. Pickering reportedly swerved to avoid Ruzicka's car and slammed into the side of Cappel's car.
According to ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke, Rigby's office received the Nov. 4 letter Monday. Jerke said ITD's Timmerman study is near completion and will be presented to the signatories of the Nov. 4 letter and the greater community "in the next couple of weeks."
A special road safety audit of the junction that was initiated in July, following a "rash of recent accidents," was also delivered Monday to ITD's District 4 office in Shoshone, Rigby said.
Jerke said the special safety audit includes input from the Blaine County Sheriff's Office and engineers from around the state to "bring a different set of eyeballs to the take a look and develop a new scenario for improving the intersection."