Friday, October 3, 2014

New highway lanes opened to traffic

Finishing touches under way on two-year road construction project

Express Staff Writer

The finishing touches are now being made on a state Highway 75 construction project south of Ketchum. Road painters Wanda West and her husband Mike West are shown here finishing turn arrows on Wednesday. Photo by Roland Lane

     After two summers of road work, motorists this week traveling between East Fork and Ketchum had the opportunity to drive on all four new lanes in a state Highway 75 construction zone south of Ketchum.

     “The good news is we’re coming to the end of construction,” Walter Burnside, project development engineer for Idaho Transportation Department District 4, said at a Thursday meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee. “We’ve got both lanes open now. We expect to have everything off the road by Oct. 10.”

     Burnside noted that there are still odds and ends to be completed and that some of the new lanes may be periodically closed while crews complete work on access roads to homes and businesses.

     “Most of it’s just mopping up the end of the job,” he said.

     Started in the spring of 2013, the project involved widening a 3.25-mile section of Highway 75 between Timber Way, which is just north of East Fork Road, and the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. Now that the roadway is finished, it has two lanes in each direction and center turning lanes and deceleration lanes at major intersections.

     Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, who chairs the transportation committee, said most of the comments she’s getting from the public regarding the project are positive. However, other committee members questioned why some of the project areas have lower speed limits now than they did before the highway was widened to four lanes.

     Committee member Nils Ribi, who represents the city of Sun Valley on the committee, said when he drove to the meeting Thursday morning he was going 50 miles per hour in a new 45 mph zone and many vehicles were passing him doing about 60 mph.

     Previously, the speed limit was 55 mph from East Fork Road to just south of the highway intersection with Hospital Drive, where the speed limit was reduced to 45 mph.

     Now, the section of highway is posted at 55 mph on the south end of the project but changed to 45 mph just north of the intersection with Cold Springs Drive. A 35-mph speed limit goes into effect at the highway intersection with Hospital Drive and continues at that limit into Ketchum.

     ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby said the speed limit was listed at the lower speeds in the Final Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2008.

     “I know things seem to be a surprise when you see them on the ground,” Rigby said.

     Burnside said that over the next six months ITD will evaluate how traffic is behaving in the project area and will consider changes after that.

     “It will take three to six months for the patterns to establish,” Burnside said. “We want to be able to move people back and forth in a safe manner.”

     Rigby said ITD will rely heavily on the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office to monitor traffic behavior and be present for enforcement if needed.

     “We’re really looking for your input,” Rigby told Sheriff Gene Ramsey, a member of the committee. “If you’ll look at that closely over the next few months we’ll consider changes to the speed limit.”

     Rigby said ITD has received numerous calls recently regarding the speed limit in the project area.

     “We’ve had some that want 35 all the way and we’ve had others that want 55 all the way to Warm Springs,” Rigby said. “We are getting calls on both sides of the issue. The Sheriff’s Office is a critical consideration in this.”

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