Friday, January 20, 2012

Narrow stretch of H-75 to be replaced

ITD ready to reconstruct 8-mile section north of Shoshone

Express Staff Writer

After 15 years of planning, the Idaho Transportation Department announced Wednesday that environmental hurdles have been overcome to reconstruct the narrow 8-mile stretch of state Highway 75 immediately north of Shoshone.

What's more, wetlands lost in Lincoln County for the construction project will be recouped in a restoration project planned for a portion of Grove Creek in southern Blaine County.

According to the highway plan, ITD will not simply widen the 8-mile stretch of road. Instead, the agency plans to replace it entirely and build new and wider bridges across three waterways that the section of highway now crosses.

Current plans are for a contract to be awarded this spring and for work to be started this summer. According to ITD, the project will probably take a year to complete.

The project has been delayed for the past two years while an impacted wetlands assessment was conducted and while ITD came up with a way to replace wetlands that will be lost.

Wetlands mitigation

According to ITD, construction of the new roadway will destroy a total of 1.65 acres of wetland habitat. Under federal law, wetlands lost to construction must be replaced elsewhere.

Except for a small portion of wetlands surrounding the Big Wood River where it flows north of Shoshone, most of the impacted wetlands were man-made from irrigation operations. But man-made or not, federal law still requires that the wetlands be replaced.

It's going to cost ITD $251,776 to replace the wetlands, a cost that ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke said breaks down to $3.40 for each square foot.

ITD is the first entity to contribute to a new wetlands mitigation credit that's been created for a wetlands restoration project on Grove Creek south of Gannett and northwest of Picabo.

The Grove Creek project is being developed by The Wetlands Group LLC, headquartered in Eagle, on 14.12 acres of property described in the plan as the "O'Gara Family Trust"

Since the Grove Creek Mitigation Bank requires that wetlands credits be purchased in tenth-acre increments, ITD is contributing funds for 1.7 acres worth of restoration work to replace the lost wetlands from the north Shoshone highway work.

According to the mitigation bank plan, the 14.2 acres of wetland will be constructed on what was historically wetland habit along Grove Creek but was converted years ago into farmland.

Jerke said that ITD's payment into the mitigation bank not only helps fund construction of the Grove Creek wetlands but also pays for maintenance of the wetlands "into perpetuity,"

"In the long run, $251,000 into perpetuity is pretty cost-effective for what ITD has done in the past to develop and maintain wetlands," Jerke said.

Highway Construction

The highway project will involve building an entirely new roadway mostly to the east of the existing stretch of road. Once the new section is completed, the old roadway will be demolished.

The new roadway will be what ITD described as "full-width" and with left-hand turn lanes, similar to the portions of Highway 75 north of the 8-mile project area.

"It's going to be flatter, straighter and wider," Jerke said.

"We had to wait for a lot of dominoes to be set into place and fall before we could move forward with this project," said ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby. "Reconstruction of this section of Idaho 75 has been in the works for a long time and we're thrilled to finally see this happening."

Terry Smith:

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