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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Aug 28 - Sept 3, 2002


ITD weighs Hwy. 75 upgrade options

Says four lanes needed 
through much of valley

"We’re looking at a continuous three-lane option, but that is probably not going to perform very well in terms of accommodating traffic."

DIANA ATKINS, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas highway consultant

Express Staff Writer

A consultant for the Idaho Transportation Department said last week that the state is continuing to weigh alternatives for expanding Highway 75 through the Wood River Valley, but has tentatively determined that four lanes are needed to accommodate traffic along most stretches of the route.

Diana Atkins, a representative of the Utah-based consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, conducted an eight-hour "Drop-in Storefront Office" in Bellevue City Hall Aug. 20 to answer questions from the public about ongoing state studies of ways to accommodate projected increases in traffic on the highway through the next 20 years.

The public forum was one of a series of monthly gatherings throughout the valley this summer. The next meeting is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Wood River Inn in Hailey.

The meetings are being held as Parsons Brinckerhoff, ITD and the Federal Highway Administration attempt to determine what the best course of action—if any—is necessary to improve traffic flow on the increasingly congested 27-mile stretch of highway from Timmerman Junction at U.S. 20 to Saddle Road, just north of Ketchum.

"Federal Highways makes the ultimate decision, but is influenced by public comment," Atkins said.

The state and its consultant are currently in the third phase of an anticipated nine-phase plan that likely will not include any construction work until sometime during or after 2004.

Researchers for the state have predicted that traffic growth will increase in the valley some 60 to 80 percent over the next 20 years, at a pace of 2.5 to 3 percent each year.

Project managers through September plan to identify what alternatives should be considered, through a combination of scientific research and public input.

Starting in the fall, they intend to start evaluating the environmental, traffic, aesthetic and other impacts of the various alternatives. The results, along with a specified "preferred alternative," will subsequently be incorporated into a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Last week’s forum in Bellevue was sparsely attended, with a dozen-or-so valley residents showing up during the day to review aerial maps of the highway corridor that showed the existing highway in relation to the state’s right-of-way along the 27 miles.

Despite the low turnout, Atkins said she believes public input has played a key role in helping the state determine which alternatives will be reviewed in the DEIS set to be released next spring.

She said the state is currently looking at a variety of expansion options geared for specific sections of the route. The options include:

· Widening the highway to accommodate four traffic lanes, two northbound and two southbound.

· Widening the highway in places from two lanes to three lanes, with one in each direction for continuous traffic and a single lane for turning cars.

· Expanding the highway in select places to five lanes, with two in each direction and an additional turn lane.

· Not widening the highway at all, an alternative that the state is required by law to consider.

Atkins said that although no preferred alternative has been developed, the state through its research and analysis over the last two years has determined that a need exists for a continuous four-lane highway through much of the valley.

"We’re looking at a continuous three-lane option, but that is probably not going to perform very well in terms of accommodating traffic," she said.

Atkins noted that projected increases in traffic would best be served by a highway consisting of "two lanes in each direction with some center turn lanes" through much of the corridor.

However, Atkins said the state and the FHA will be forced to consider a variety of factors other than providing optimal traffic flow.

"They try to meet the transportation need and the community’s need, but sometimes they are in conflict," Atkins said.

Key elements of the state’s existing studies and plans indicate that ITD and its consultants:

· Favor a three-lane road through Reinheimer Ranch and southern Ketchum below the Trail Creek Bridge, but have been asked by some residents to look at a four-lane option. Atkins said the state will consider putting in four traffic lanes south of the bridge, but is not considering work north of that point.

· Have determined a need for four traffic lanes through much of the mid-valley, but need to conduct additional studies on how to maintain access to all side roads.

· Propose to make no significant alterations to the highway through downtown Hailey or Bellevue.

· Have determined a need for four lanes from Bellevue north to Fox Acres Road in southern Hailey, as well as center turn lanes and traffic lights at Countryside and Woodside boulevards.

· Believe that only two continuous traffic lanes are needed south of Gannett Road in Bellevue, yet will consider options for expansion, including a four-lane configuration.

Complicating the decisions will be landowners not wanting to allow an expansion project to encroach on their real estate, and federal regulations that require noise-mitigation measures be implemented if traffic along the highway creates too much noise in surrounding residential areas.

Atkins said if noise limits are exceeded, the state would be required to install "some sort of barrier" to reduce the impacts. She noted that because the county limits the height of earthen berms, the state would alternatively be forced to consider installing a wall.

"However, that goes against what are most people’s values of scenic qualities," she said.

As for the results of sound studies on the highway, Atkins said she is "sure there will be areas that go over federal standards."

Atkins suggested that state researchers overall believe a widened road will handle traffic more efficiently, but acknowledged that congestion on Highway 75 would likely not be eliminated altogether, particularly south of Ketchum.

"It’s probably a true statement that traffic will bottleneck in that area," she said.



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