For the week of July 7, 1999  thru July 13, 1999  

The 21-stoplight surprise

Tell someone you’re doing a study and expect a droopy-eyed yawn.

Ask valley residents to sacrifice an evening at home during one of the busiest weeks of the year to offer comments on a study, and most will stay home on the couch.

That’s what happened last week when an engineering company hired by the Idaho Transportation Department held an open house to solicit comments from the public on its state Highway 75 study and proposals for expansion.

The meeting turned out to be a 21-stoplight surprise.

What the public didn’t know before the open house was that the study proposes 15 new stoplights for a total of 21 stoplights along the highway between Timmerman Hill and the northern edge of Ketchum.

The public also didn’t know that the study proposes a five-lane highway that is nearly 40% wider than the widest point of the existing highway. When finished, the five-laner will be half a football field wide. (It’s now one-third the width of a football field.)

Had the commuting public been told these things, it’s likely apathy would have vanished.

Had property owners whose lands border the highway been told that the state will have to purchase more property in certain spots to expand the highway right of way, ears would have perked up as the owners imagined the sounds of the highway edging ever closer to their bedroom windows.

Had cities and businesses along the valley’s Main Streets been told that the plan calls for limiting access to many cross streets, blood pressures would have risen as business owners contemplated the possible negative effects on their cash registers.

Had local taxpayers been told that they may have to pick up much of the cost over the $35-million price tag for a basic ugly highway if they want it beautified, they would have been motivated to comment by the pinch in the pocketbook.

All of these things are in a plan for State Highway 75 drafted by an engineering company hired by the ITD. Of course, no one knew what was in the plan before the engineering company held its poorly attended meeting because it made no effort to let anyone know.

That needs to change.

The plan needs exposure up and down the valley, before city councils, the county commissioners, and planning and zoning commissions. The plan needs to be aired in open public meetings of both government officials and residents.

The ITD has emphasized that it wants public comments and should be happy to provide command performances.

The future of state Highway 75 has been a thorny issue for more than 25 years. Valley residents have made it clear that when it comes to highway expansion, there should be no surprises. A long-term plan like this one deserves a lot of discussion and debate before decisions are made to build a highway that will have dramatic impacts on the valley.


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