The Idaho Transportation Department announced Wednesday that the bridge over the Big Wood River immediately south of Ketchum will be restriped beginning next week to accommodate three lanes of traffic, two northbound and one southbound.
Reconfiguration of the bridge near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital is being done in conjunction with completion of a 3.25-mile widening project on state Highway 75 from the bridge south to Timber Way, which is just north of East Fork Road.
Paving is now finished in the construction zone and Idaho Sand & Gravel Co., contracted by ITD for the project, is now completing final touches. ITD announced in a news release that road striping, including the bridge, is expected to start next week, possibly as early as Monday.
When open to traffic within the next few weeks, the 3.25-mile section of highway will provide two lanes of traffic in both directions with center turning and deceleration lanes at major intersections. ITD is reconfiguring the bridge to avoid a bottleneck for northbound traffic at the bridge entrance.
In the news release, ITD described reconfiguration of the bridge as a temporary solution.
“The third lane will be a short-term condition as the Big Wood River bridge is scheduled to be replaced beginning in late 2016 or early 2017,” ITD reported. “During that construction project, only two lanes of traffic are expected across the bridge while half of the new structure is constructed at the same location. The bridge is expected to take 18-24 months to construct.”
ITD’s interim solution to the bridge configuration is in accord with recommendations of members of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, an advisory group to ITD comprised of local officials and community leaders.
ITD Resident Engineer Justin Price brought the bridge question to the attention of the committee at its monthly meeting on Sept. 4. Price informed the committee then that the bridge is wide enough to accommodate three 12-foot lanes of traffic, but that doing so would leave only two-foot shoulders on either side, a situation that could be hazardous for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
Price then asked for recommendations from committee members, explaining that he needed them by Tuesday, Sept. 9, so that a decision could be made and a striping plan, if that was the decision, could be developed for implementation.
Most committee members who provided comments agreed that reconfiguring the bridge to three lanes, with two lanes northbound and one southbound, was the best option. However, several also suggested that bicyclists and pedestrians be warned of the narrowness of the bridge.
“If the final decision is three lanes with two-foot shoulders, it would be safer for all if signage directing pedestrians and bike riders to the bike path to the east of the bridge be posted at sufficient distance north and south to allow users to detour to the bike path,” wrote committee member Len Harlig, a former Blaine County commissioner.
“I would support a three-lane striping, with two lanes going north,” wrote Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey. “I also agree with Len Harlig on the signage to alert pedestrians and bike riders that they are not allowed on the bridge.”
Jim Keating, executive director of the Blaine County Recreation District, said at the Sept. 4 committee meeting that the portion of the Wood River Trail near the bridge will be closed for close to a month while the trail is being reconstructed and resurfaced.
Keating reported in an email to Price on Monday that the Recreation District is now working on a detour plan that would be put into effect while construction is under way on the trail in the vicinity of the bridge.