Friday, December 3, 2010

ITD plans 4-way stop at Timmerman

Agency favors ‘roundabout’ as ultimate solution for junction

Express Staff Writer

Officials with the Idaho Transportation Department announced Wednesday that a four-way stop will be implemented within the next few months at Timmerman Junction south of Bellevue. Now only east-west traffic coming from Fairfield or Carey on U.S. Highway 20 is required to stop. Photo by Willy Cook

Get ready to hit the brakes at Timmerman Junction, as the Idaho Transportation Department intends to make the intersection of U.S. Highway 20 and state Highway 75 a four-way stop within the next few months.

"I'm going to make a formal announcement that that's where we're going," ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby said Wednesday at a meeting with local officials in Hailey.

Some of the officials seemed skeptical of the plan, but Rigby countered that highway studies have shown that installing a four-way stop at an accident-prone intersection can reduce crashes by 48 percent.

"It's a state highway—it's our decision," Rigby said. "We are really at the point where we can hold our breath and hope that the situation goes away, or we can put in some major traffic controls. You guys sent a letter that said act, so that's what we're going to do."

Rigby was referring to a Nov. 4 letter sent to him and signed by Blaine County Commission Chair Larry Schoen, Bellevue Mayor Christopher Koch, Hailey Mayor Rick Davis, Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich.

In the letter, the officials stated that the "accident rate at Timmerman Junction is unacceptable." They urged that a short-term solution be implemented within three to six months and a long-term solution be implemented within the next two years.

Rigby explained that the four-way stop is the short-term solution. He said he will also submit the intersection south of Bellevue into ITD's funding scheme for a long-term intersection improvement, with his preferred option being construction of a single-lane roundabout.

In a roundabout, traffic from all directions would need to slow down at the intersection to make a right-hand turn into a circle. Vehicles can then proceed through the circle making a right turn wherever the drivers wish to exit. Traffic entering the circle would be required to yield to traffic already in the circle.

Rigby said highway studies have shown that a roundabout can reduce all accidents at an intersection by 71 percent and injury accidents by 87 percent.

Rigby said implementation of the four-way stop is dependent upon the weather, but can likely be accomplished within the next three months at a cost of no more than $10,000. The work would include planting stop signs on Highway 75 and installing advance warning signs, rumble strips and new road markings.

Converting the intersection to a roundabout could likely be done within the next three to six years, depending upon wetland assessments, engineering and design work and funding. ITD estimates the cost of converting to a roundabout at up to $2 million.

"The four-way stop is not, and never could be, the final solution," Rigby said. "A roundabout is really our preferred option at the district level."


Skepticism voiced

The local officials who attended Wednesday's meeting seemed generally in favor of the roundabout concept, but some were skeptical about converting the intersection in the meantime into a four-way stop.

"I'm just worried that your going to get a lot of rear-end accidents from the north-south traffic," said Ketchum Mayor Hall, referring to traffic leaving or entering the Wood River Valley on Highway 75. "I think there will be some resistance to putting a four-way stop there."

"I'm not too crazy about the idea," said Sun Valley Mayor Willich. "Now you've got a full expectation that somebody is going to stop."

Willich was referring to the main cause of recent accidents at the junction, where an eastbound or westbound driver on Highway 20 correctly stopped at the junction, but then proceeded across, either not seeing the north-south traffic or assuming that they were going to stop, too.

Rigby acknowledged that making the intersection a four-way stop brings additional safety concerns, but said that overall "it will be safer and the accidents will be reduced."

Willich also expressed concern about the ability of northbound trucks coming down Timmerman Hill to stop at the intersection, but Rigby said an evaluation has shown that there is sufficient level ground between the hill and the junction to allow trucks to stop.

Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard said he favors the plan.

"I really like what I'm hearing," Blanchard said. "I think our council and community will like it."

Hailey Mayor Rick Davis didn't express an outright opinion, but said, "My council and I both appreciate your response to the letter."

None of Blaine County's three commissioners attended the meeting. Rigby said the information will be presented to them at a later time.

ITD's decision on solutions to Timmerman Junction followed a traffic safety evaluation of the intersection that was started last summer and completed in November. The evaluation was initiated because of an increase in the number of injury accidents at the intersection within the past few years.

According to ITD, there were 26 traffic accidents at the junction from 2000 through 2009. There have been three serious accidents at Timmerman since June, resulting in injuries to 11 people.

From 2006-2008, Timmerman Junction ranked 25th as an accident frequency location in ITD District 4, which includes all or part of 10 counties in south-central Idaho. From 2006-2009, the junction jumped to 11th on the District 4 list.

"It went for a long time with only minor accidents, but this past year it's gotten worse," Rigby said.

Terry Smith:

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