As state Highway 75 crumbles apart under vehicles' wheels, the Idaho Transportation Department is finalizing plans to repair the thoroughfare. But work is not set to start until August, and in the meantime ITD will keep shoveling asphalt into potholes that seem to grow larger every day.
"There's an awful lot of them, that's for sure," said Nathan Jerke, spokesman for ITD Region 4 in Jerome. "It's kind of a sad situation for drivers and for us because all we can do is keep filling them up.
"When they're [ITD crews] not battling the snow, they're out there battling those holes. They're out there today and they'll probably be out there tomorrow. The problem is moisture. As long as the moisture remains and the freezing, it's going to pop back out of there. The breakup should slow down once freezing weather is gone."
The roadway in question is the 10-mile stretch of highway between Ketchum and Hailey.
As part of a Highway 75 expansion project, construction of a new road between Timmerman Junction and north Ketchum is scheduled to begin in 2013 and continue for several years. But the surface of the road between Ketchum and Hailey isn't going to last until then, as ITD and anyone who has driven the road lately can attest.
Jerke said ITD receives several complaints a day about the deteriorating condition of the highway.
ITD is currently finalizing a design to repair the road. The agency expects to award a contract this summer and tentatively plans to start construction in August.
The construction start date isn't exactly what the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee requested of ITD in late January, when deterioration was noticeable but not as extreme as it's become in the past several weeks.
At that time, the committee, composed of Blaine County government, local municipalities and other local governmental entities, formally requested that ITD not start construction until after Labor Day weekend in early September.
Jerke said ITD needs to start work sooner in order to get it done before colder temperatures set in this fall. He said ITD estimates the work will take 41 days. It will last even longer if ITD suspends work for Labor Day weekend and other heavily traveled times.
"If they're guessing August, it appears they can't meet our request," said Blaine County Commission Chair Angenie McCleary, who also chairs the regional transportation committee. "Our desire is that they limit the work on the highway to the times that are not our highest visitor times, but we also realize their constraints and we're stuck that they need to do the work."
McCleary said the issue will be discussed further with ITD at the next regional transportation committee meeting, scheduled for April 7.
This is not the first time ITD has had problems with the road surface between Ketchum and Hailey. A new surface was put on the road in 2006.
"That certainly did not meet the expectations of ITD because it deteriorated much sooner than we expected," Jerke said.
He said ITD isn't sure why the highway surface didn't last, but noted that moisture in the roadbed continues to be an underlying problem in maintaining a good road.
Jerke explained that the highway has two asphalt layers—a surface and an underlay. Below the underlay is a packed gravel roadbed. Between Ketchum and Hailey, the roadbed doesn't drain moisture away as well as it should.
During late winter and early spring, moisture alternatively freezes and melts, causing the asphalt to expand and contract and thus to break apart. The crumbling asphalt is then churned out by vehicles' tires.
Jerke said that when construction gets underway, in some areas only a new surface will be built, but in the worst areas a new underlay of asphalt will also be added.
But the new surface will only be a temporary fix. Jerke said a new roadbed will be installed as part of the highway expansion project that starts in 2013.
"We need to build up the base so the water will drain off better," he said.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mill and inlay
The Idaho Transportation Department will also be repairing a six-mile stretch of state Highway 75 south of Bellevue this summer. A start date hasn't been set, but ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke said "likely early summer." Jerke described the work as a "mill and inlay" project, explaining that about 2 inches of the roadway will be scraped off and a new surface installed. Cracks now appearing in the roadway are an indication that the asphalt is breaking apart. "You're seeing the development of what will be new potholes if we don't get it fixed this year," Jerke said.