Friday, November 8, 2013

Highway work halted for winter

Construction to resume next spring

Express Staff Writer

Traffic has now been diverted onto newly constructed lanes of state Highway 75 south of St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. Much of the old highway bed has now been ripped up to make room for construction of new lanes next year. When finished, the highway will have two lanes in each direction. Photo by Roland Lane

    Other than some odds and ends left to be done, construction on state Highway 75 south of Ketchum is finished for the year.
    “We’re shut down for the most part, functionally, for the winter,” Walter Burnside, project development engineer for Idaho Transportation Department District 4, said at a Thursday meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee. “We’ll start back up, it’s anticipated, in mid-May, depending on the weather.”
    Construction, started last spring, involves widening a 3.75-mile stretch of state Highway 75 between Timber Way north of East Fork Road and the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. When finished, the highway will have two lanes in each direction and center turn lanes and deceleration lanes at major intersections.
    The contractor, Idaho Sand and Gravel Co., has mainly finished building new traffic lanes to the west of the old roadway, which is now being ripped up so the remainder of the new roadway can be completed next year.
    Burnside said the traffic lane configuration, which mainly utilizes the newly built roadway, is the way it will be left until construction resumes next spring. Burnside said the orange barrels now delineating the edges of the new roadway will soon be removed and replaced with smaller markers called “candlesticks.” He said the smaller markers will allow more room on the highway shoulders.
    Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey, who was earlier concerned about the configuration of the highway for the winter, said at the Transportation Committee meeting that he’s now comfortable with the plan.
    “Actually, the traffic flows very good through that area—much better than I anticipated,” Ramsey said.
Reduced speed limit
    In other Highway 75 news, ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby told the Transportation Committee that the reduced nighttime speed limit north of Hailey is working well.
    “We’ve heard all positive comments; nothing negative,” Rigby said. He said the only comments that could be considered critical of the new speed limit were by people who said it should have been done on a longer stretch of highway.
    The reduced nighttime speed limit involves a 2.75-mile stretch of the highway between McKercher Boulevard in northern Hailey and Zinc Spur Road to the north. The nighttime speed limit is now 45 miles per hour, instead of 55 mph as it was before the new limit was put into effect on Oct. 30.
    The purpose of the reduced speed is to reduce the number of collisions on that stretch of roadway between vehicles and wildlife, mostly deer and elk. The area has had one of the highest vehicle-versus-wildlife collision rates in Blaine County, with the vast majority of them occurring at night.
    Rigby said that because of public awareness of the problem, vehicles were moving slower and the number of wildlife collisions was down even before the new speed limit was put in place.
    “Public awareness and perception has really been an extreme benefit,” Rigby said.
    Ramsey confirmed that the number of collisions has gone down.
    “There haven’t been any accidents in that area, but we did have one road-rage incident,” the sheriff said.

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