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For the week of Sept. 1, 1999 through Sept. 7, 1999

ITD outlines Highway 75 planning process

Highway plans generate angst


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

With anxiety mounting amid some confusion over plans for highway expansion, an Idaho Transportation Department official appeared at the Blaine County Transportation Committee meeting Thursday to answer concerns of residents and clarify blueprints for proposed improvements to state Highway 75.

Senior transportation planner Bob Humphrey said much of the confusion stems from the fact that there are three projects currently in the works, and all are at different planning stages: the Highway 75 corridor study, the Alturas Drive to Timber Way project and the Timber Way to Elkhorn project.

"The corridor study is an umbrella over everything we (the ITD) plan to do over the next 20 years," Humphrey said, "(It’s) a guideline or to-do list which these other projects are part of."

The Greenhorn project is scheduled to begin Oct. 1 with the replacement of the Greenhorn Bridge which Humphrey said is a "definite go."

Next summer, the ITD has proposed, it will widen to five lanes a 2.44-mile stretch of the highway from Alturas Drive (near Ohio Gulch) to Timber Way (just north of East Fork).

The ITD hopes to fastrack that project with the expansion of an additional 4.8-mile segment extending north to Elkhorn Road. Humphrey said the ITD is trying to combine the two projects so the valley will be impacted only one year instead of two.

Humphrey said the highway planning process follows a time line made up of four segments that begins with the corridor study then progresses into a "project specifics" phase, "project plans" phase and ends with "the Big ‘C’ Word" or "construction" phase (See graph).

Humphrey said the corridor study, which is guided in part by public input, should be completed by the latter part of January or first part of February. He added that the study could be extended if the need for more public input is determined.

Humphrey said the Alturas Drive to Timber Way project has gone through the corridor study process, which includes meeting provisions of the National Environmental Process Act.

The Timber Way to Elkhorn project, which is scheduled for environmental review next month, will still be required to go through the entire planning process even though it has tentatively been combined with the Alturas Drive to Timber Way project, Humphrey said.

When asked why a corridor study for the Alturas Drive to Elkhorn project is necessary since it has already been set for construction, Humphrey said the project was programmed prior to the beginning of the corridor study and will now proceed in conjunction with the study. Humphrey said that public input for this project was gathered from public hearings conducted in July 1998.

Humphrey said that funding for the Greenhorn project will be available for expenditure on Oct. 1, the beginning of the new federal fiscal year 2000.

When asked if the ITD would consider holding off on the Greenhorn project until the corridor study is completed, Humphrey said that due to a backlog of transportation projects throughout the state, the Idaho Transportation Board could take the money set aside for Highway 75 and spend it somewhere else if that project is delayed. The board, whose members are appointed by the governor, sets policy for highway planning.

Humphrey said the Highway 75 project presents a number of challenges, such as "making the highway aesthetically acceptable due to the uniqueness of the area," and the fact that "the ITD is restrained within the existing corridor and trying to look at every possible alternative design feature" in planning for the highway.

"We want to obtain enough public input that the ITD feels it has enough information to make a viable decision here, he said in an interview. "There’s different theories of thought out there (in the Wood River Valley) for highway design."

However, Humphrey added the ITD has a limited budget and the bottom line is cost effectiveness.

"We can’t come up here and build a Mercedes Benz when there are other projects in Idaho that need to be done," Humphrey said. "We’ll do the best we can with the funds we have."

It was announced at Thursday’s meeting that the third and final public open house meeting to gather public input on the Highway 75 corridor study has been scheduled for Sept. 22 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the old County Courthouse in Hailey.

The ITD will make a presentation of the Highway 75 expansion plan to the Ketchum City Council on Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ketchum City Hall.

The Blaine County Transportation Committee will meet next on Sept. 30 at 7:45 a.m., also at the Ketchum City Hall.

 

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