Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Highway 75 widening set to start

Wetlands mitigation shifted to Bellevue Triangle

Express Staff Writer

Final easements are being negotiated and landowners are being paid to move fences to make way for widening a 3.75-mile section of state Highway 75 between Timber Way, north of the East Fork traffic light, to just south of the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River, an ITD representative said during an open house at the Kentwood Lodge in Ketchum last week.

Project Manager Mike Scott said the state had 44 negotiations to clear the rights of way for the project, including acquisitions and easements, with about 90 percent of negotiations going for acquisitions. What remains now is for paperwork to be completed so the project can be put out to bid, Scott said. 

ITD officials hosted the event to present final plans for the project, set to begin in the spring. The final design specifies widening the highway to two lanes in each direction with an intermittent center turn lane. Shoulders will be widened to 8 feet and deceleration lanes will be constructed at Gimlet Road, Cold Springs Drive and Broadway Run. 

Planned work also includes an infiltration pond for excess water to go at the southern entrance to the hospital, retaining walls and a sound barrier on the west side of the highway just south of St. Luke’s. 

“I think it will be great for the whole valley,” Scott said, explaining that the new lanes will help drivers enter and exit the highway more easily. “It will have a traffic-calming effect.”

The segment is the only funded portion of a greater expansion project that involves widening and improving a 28-mile section of highway from Timmerman Junction south of Bellevue north to Saddle Road in Ketchum, at a cost of some $200 million.

ITD has so far received about $27 million in federal funds for design and construction of the 3.75-mile section, wetlands mitigation and design only of a new bridge and highway from the Big Wood River bridge near the hospital north to the intersection of Elkhorn Road. The wetlands mitigation plan involves a one-time payment of $396,400 to The Wetland Group of Eagle, Idaho, which will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore wetlands on acreage in the Bellevue Triangle, said Connie Jones, senior environmental planner for ITD. The mitigation is for 2.6 acres of wetlands along the entire section of highway under review that would be destroyed by highway construction.

This map shows the stretch of state Highway 75 that will be improved in the next phase of trying to widen the highway between Timmerman Junction and Ketchum.

Jones said that even though only a small portion of wetlands will be impacted by the section of slated highway construction next spring, mitigation for the entire 28 miles needs to be in place before any construction can begin.

The funded project includes almost 4,000 square feet of wetlands that will be impacted, which is only 0.036 percent of the wetlands impacted by the entire project. A $4 million mitigation plan at Boulder Flats north of Ketchum was abandoned when it was determined that the plan would not create enough replacement wetlands at the location, Jones said. She said that since there has been little public controversy to the mitigation and construction plans, ITD hopes to have payments for wetlands mitigation made by Oct. 1.

“I’m excited about the project,” said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall during the open house. “A lot of thought has been put into it. I’m glad the project is going forward.”

Hall said that as commerce and busier traffic return to the county, having the highway improvements in place will improve quality of life for everyone.

“With 2008 numbers [of vehicles], Ketchum becomes a parking lot,” he said. “I think the project will go a long way to evacuating gridlock from Ketchum.”

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