A decision by the Idaho Transportation Department to not remove large chunks of asphalt and other debris for the winter from a state Highway 75 construction zone south of Ketchum has been met with criticism by local officials.
ITD announced in a news release Wednesday that the winter traffic plan for a 3.75-mile construction zone is “now under way and will remain largely unchanged throughout the winter.”
“Questions have been raised by members of the public about the asphalt debris along the east side of the highway south of Hospital Drive,” the news release states. “ITD’s resident engineer determined it was safe for the asphalt debris to be stored at this location until its removal next year. The contractor has shut down operations and removed its equipment from the area.”
Blaine County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen called the decision to leave the debris unacceptable and Mountain Rides Transportation Authority Operations Manager Jim Finch termed the state of the highway as “unsafe.”
The construction zone extends from Timber Way north of East Fork Road to the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. The project, which when finished will widen the road to two lanes in each direction, was started in May by Idaho Sand and Gravel Co. under contract with ITD. The work was not finished this year and will be resumed next spring.
Traffic is now being diverted mostly onto a newly constructed roadway while the old roadway to the east has been partially ripped up, resulting in the large asphalt slabs and other debris that remain east of the new roadway.
“Is the material recycled for future use on this project or elsewhere, or is it merely removed?” Schoen wrote in an email to ITD. “If the latter, I do not believe it is acceptable to anyone up here that the contractor did not plan for debris removal and pulled out for the winter.
“This decision should be reversed and the debris removed as soon as possible,” Schoen continued. “Frankly, I am surprised your agency would find this appropriate on state Highway 75 leading into Ketchum, Sun Valley and the Sawtooths.”
Finch, who manages the Mountain Rides bus fleet, complained in an email to ITD that markers along the new roadway and other conditions will inhibit snow removal this winter. He further complained that the roadway is too narrow in some areas.
“The bottom line, in my opinion, is the project was left in a condition that is unsafe and essentially a public safety issue that falls squarely on ITD,” Finch wrote. “We would have been better off without a widening project.”