Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Simpson asks feds to expedite highway study

Release of decision would allow use of $26 million in funding

Express Staff Writer

Mike Simpson

The seemingly endless number of bureaucratic delays that have kept the Federal Highway Administration from releasing a final "record of decision" on the state Highway 75 improvement project has caught the attention of Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

In a Dec. 6 letter addressed to Peter Hartman, the administrator for the Idaho Division of the Federal Highway Administration, Simpson asked the agency to expedite its decision-making process for the highway improvement project.

In the same letter, Simpson states that the proposed highway project "is critical to maintaining economic vitality in this region in central Idaho and vital to ensuring safety for those traveling this main route."

Noting that he has worked closely with local elected officials in the region, Simpson goes on to state his dismay with the length of time it has taken for the decision to be released.

"I am alarmed at the bureaucratic hurdles posed by the Federal Highway Administration and the delay in reaching a final decision," he states.

In an e-mail forwarding Simpson's letter to the Idaho Mountain Express, Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael states that until the decision is issued, the Idaho Transportation Department will be unable to use the $26 million in federal funds that Simpson was able to successfully garner for the project.

Michael goes on to say that the Federal Highway Administration signed off on the environmental impact statement two years ago, but bureaucratic hurdles from the federal office in San Francisco has been holding it up.

The planned $100 million-plus Highway 75 project is some 25 miles long, extending from Ketchum south to Timmerman Hill, at the junction of Highway 75 with east-west U.S. Highway 20. The plan has called for expanding the highway to four lanes through most of the Wood River Valley.

As originally envisioned, some stretches would be widened to eliminate bottlenecks that cause traffic backups during peak times, plus environmental, pedestrian and bicycling amenities. The improved highway is designed to accommodate traffic through at least 2025.

The filing of a decision for the Highway 75 project would also allow highway planners to begin considering what rights-of-way will need to be purchased to allow some or all of the proposed highway improvement project to proceed.

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