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For the week of Oct. 13, 1999 through Oct. 19, 1999

Residents confront proposed Highway 75 project

Some support widening; others seek alternatives

Express Staff Writer

o13highway.jpg (14297 bytes)This enhanced photo illustrates how Highway 75 would look following proposed improvements and widening to five lanes. The view looks north toward Ketchum from the McHanville area. The illustration was part of consultant CH2M Hill’s corridor study presented at Thursday’s open house. Photo courtesy of CH2M Hill.

Local reaction was mixed Thursday night as highway planners presented the latest in an ongoing study of improvements proposed for state Highway 75 over the next 20 years.

A series of "open house" meetings had been scheduled to gather public input in preparation for a final draft of a highway study being prepared by a Boise-based consulting firm. The study affects a 26-mile-long segment between U.S Route 20 and Saddle Road, north of Ketchum.

About 125 Wood River Valley residents attended the third and final open house last week during a four-hour session at Wood River Middle School. Easels encircled the auditorium with charts, graphs and illustrations of proposed highway improvements.

According to CH2M Hill engineer Theodore Reynen, main issues in the study involve the efficient moving of traffic through the valley; allowing safe and convenient crossing and access to the highway; and creating a highway design that is the least intrusive to the rural character of the valley.

Reynen said an option that could widen the highway is based on traffic forecasts.

According to the consultant’s study, Highway 75 has an acceptable capacity of 13,000 vehicles a day. Since 1990, traffic has increased 41 percent to 15,000 vehicles on an average day, according to the consultant. The study predicts a traffic volume increase of 50 percent over the next 20 years.

Reynen said that traffic numbers on Highway 75 are now at the end of the capacity for a two-lane highway, and that five lanes are necessary due to increasing traffic and projected growth in the valley.

A consensus appeared to develop among those who attended the meeting that something should be done to improve the highway transportation system in the Wood River Valley in light of projected growth. However, there was no consensus on how this should be accomplished.

Most favored widening the highway while some were more inclined to consider alternative forms of transportation and highway design before implementing a plan that could impact the valley.

Mary Jane Conger, chair of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, said she was disappointed that the presentation did not address alternatives to widening the highway.

"Due to the projected traffic increase, the ITD and CH2M Hill have decided that Highway 75 will be five lanes from Timmerman Hill to Saddle Road," Conger said. "Yet outside highway planners say that five lanes is not necessary."

Conger said that solving the problems of the highway transportation system should include discussion and dialogue about alternatives.

"We need to be looking at other forms of moving people up and down the highway such as car pooling and mass transit," she said. "Alternatives will allow the transportation system to fit in with a livable community…instead of just having a chunk of asphalt running down the valley."

Humphrey agreed there is the potential within the Highway 75 corridor for alternative forms of transportation, but argued that they would not solve immediate problems.

"We need to do the improvements first and address the immediate issues of highway safety and efficiency and then think about alternatives," he said.

A major concept expressed by residents in the first two open house meetings had been the need for safe and convenient access and crossing of the highway within and between the cities of the Wood River Valley.

In addressing that conflict, the study proposes the installation of a number of traffic lights along the highway between cities. Locations include Gannett Road, Woodside Drive, Countryside Road, Fox Acre Road, Deer Creek Road, Ohio Gulch Road, East Fork Road and Serenade Lane.

Reynen said the next step in the corridor study is to review public comments and create the final draft of the study, which should be largely completed by the end of the year.

He said there would be another round of meetings with officials from each city in the valley before the study draft is finished along with a number of meetings with the Highway 75 Steering Committee, made up of county and city officials, during the draft process.

According to Blaine County Commissioner Leonard Harlig, public hearings will be held throughout the valley once the consultant’s study is completed to give residents an opportunity to review and comment on the final corridor draft.


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