Friday, August 9, 2013

More highway work to come in future

ITD announces funding available to replace bridge near hospital

Express Staff Writer

    The Idaho Transportation Department announced this week that it now has funding to replace the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital and rehabilitate a half mile of state Highway 75 from the bridge north to Elkhorn Road.
    The announcement was first made at a Monday meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee’s advisory Wildlife Crossing Committee.
    The project is part of a long-term plan to expand 27 miles of the highway from Timmerman Junction north to Saddle Road in north Ketchum. The entire project is expected to cost close to $200 million but thus far ITD has had only $27 million in federal funding allocated for the work.
    The first phase of the plan is expansion now under way of a 3.25-mile section of the highway from Timber Way north of East Fork Road to the bridge near the hospital.
    A second phase was wetlands mitigation, wherein federal law requires that wetlands lost in a construction project need to be replaced. ITD originally planned to spend $4.4 million in wetlands mitigation by realigning Highway 75 in the Boulder Flats area north of Ketchum. However, that plan was scratched in 2012 when studies showed that realigning the highway would cause more wetlands loss than would be gained.
    Instead, ITD has now satisfied the expansion project’s wetlands mitigation requirement by contributing $396,396 to the Grove Creek Mitigation Bank, a project on Grove Creek south of Gannett to restore 14.2 acres of historic wetlands that was converted years ago into farmland.
    Thus, ITD saved about $4 million. That, plus about $200,000 saved on the construction project currently under way south of Ketchum, leaves the agency $4.2 million to replace the bridge by the hospital.
    ITD District 4 spokesman Nathan Jerke said Thursday that design, environmental review and other requirements probably won’t allow construction of the new bridge until 2016. He said the half mile of highway between the bridge and Elkhorn Road won’t likely require major construction but will require some reconfiguration to accommodate center turn lanes.
    “The major cost is the new bridge,” Jerke said.
    ITD is uncertain if or when funding will ever be available to complete the entire 27-mile highway expansion project.

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