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For the week of Feb. 23 through Feb. 29, 2000

Highway 75 council moves toward consensus on Greenhorn Bridge

Ketchum lone holdout on wider bridge design

Express Staff Writer

The Highway 75 Improvements Advisory Council has made progress in its journey down the road toward consensus on the Greenhorn Bridge project.

The Blaine County Commissioners agreed yesterday to pass on a recommendation from the council to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) supporting construction of a four-lane bridge. The city of Ketchum, however, remains reluctant to totally support the design recommended by the highway council.

The ITD has stated that if it did not receive a recommendation from local municipalities by March 1, it would not begin construction on the project this year.

In a statement made to the Blaine County Commissioners yesterday, highway council members Joanna Ehrmantraut, a Bellevue City Councilwoman, and Hailey Mayor Brad Siemer recommended construction of a four-lane bridge approximately 68-feet wide, to be built in two stages. The recommendation also includes a four-lane highway design throughout the entire Greenhorn Bridge project, which extends 2.5 miles from Alturas Drive to Timber Way.

A letter from the city of Ketchum proposed a four-lane bridge to be designed no more than 59-feet in width.

"This design would accommodate four-lanes but could also be configured into three lanes in the event the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) corridor study concludes that a three-lane or even a two-lane configuration is the most appropriate design for the rest of the highway," the letter stated. "Ketchum refuses to agree to any other improvements other than the Greenhorn bridge without full NEPA analysis as required by law."

"The letter from the city of Ketchum disappoints me," said Blaine County Commissioner and highway council member Dennis Wright at yesterday’s meeting. "I thought there was a possibility they would see the error in their ways and support the recommendation of the highway council. The attempt to gain consensus was not completely successful."

The highway council, made up of elected officials from jurisdictions along the Highway 75 corridor, held a workshop on Tuesday of last week at a packed Ketchum City Hall where locals grumbled that political agendas were complicating the highway planning process.

The meeting was the second of two workshops held to achieve consensus on the Greenhorn project, which has been delayed in part due to concerns raised by the city of Ketchum that the Idaho Transportation Department’s original 82-foot-wide, five-lane proposal was over-designed.

During last Tuesday’s workshop, the highway council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the four-lane design for the entire Greenhorn project.

Ketchum City councilman Randy Hall abstained.

Hall said the discussion had not evolved enough since the highway council agreed to endorse a scaled down, 50-foot, three-lane design in the meeting held last month.

"I don’t have the authority at this point to make a decision for the Ketchum City Council," Hall said.

Citing a Highway 75 town meeting held at Wood River High School last month, Renick said, "We had an initial agreement for four lanes. Now we’re talking three-lanes. Why?"

The crowd cheered.

Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia shouted, "It’s politics" and "Power to the people."

"The process should be governed by the majority," Renick said. "All of a sudden we’re not getting what the majority wants."

Hall responded by saying that part of the problem is that the environmental study process mandated by NEPA has not been properly carried out.

"We’re concerned about the result of connected actions," Hall said. "A comprehensive plan should be done for the entire corridor. All of our questions have not been answered."

ITD district engineer Devin Rigby said the four-lane, 68-foot-wide bridge and connecting highway design recommended by the council would be built in two stages, beginning this fall, at a cost of $939,000.

In the first phase of construction, 48 feet of the new bridge would be built just upstream of the existing bridge. After the first phase is completed, traffic would then be switched over to it, the old bridge would be demolished and the new expanse would be built out to 68-feet. Rigby said that depending on the weather, the second stage could be built through the winter and into next spring.

The other issue discussed at last Tuesday’s meeting was highway design and the number of lanes to be built throughout the Greenhorn project.

The consensus for a three-lane design reached at the first highway council meeting called for spreading traffic out in four-lane sections north and south of the bridge and then merging it back together to align with the three-lane bridge.

However, Rigby said that narrowing and widening complicates how a highway works and can lead to congestion and bottlenecks. Rigby recommended a four-lane design not just for capacity but for consistency.

Following last Tuesday’s vote in favor of the four-lane design for the Greenhorn project, Siemer reminded the council that highway improvements alone will not solve the traffic and congestion problems of Highway 75.

"Unless we see a radical departure in trends, the day will come when these improvements seem inadequate," Siemer said. "We need to get more cars off the highway."


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