The Idaho Transportation Department has reversed its position from last week and decided to remove slabs of old asphalt from a state Highway 75 construction zone south of Ketchum.
“The plan is to remove the asphalt,” ITD District 4 spokesman Nathan Jerke said Tuesday. “Our resident engineer will direct the contractor to do that.”
Jerke said removal of the slabs will require that ITD approve a change order, since the construction contractor, Idaho Sand and Gravel Co., of Jerome, earlier, at ITD’s direction, ceased work and demobilized for the winter. He said an early estimate is that ITD will have to pay the contractor approximately $40,000 to move equipment back to the Wood River Valley and remove the debris. He said a schedule hasn’t been developed as to when the debris will be removed.
“The decision was made to remove the piles due largely because of the number of complaints we had from people in the Wood River Valley,” Jerke said. “ITD does not believe this is a safety issue. The reason it’s being moved is for aesthetic reasons.”
The asphalt slabs, in the northern part of the 3.75 mile construction zone, are debris from the old highway roadbed, which will be replaced with a four-lane highway once construction is complete. But the work didn’t get done this year and will carry on into next year.
For the winter, traffic in most of the construction zone has been shifted to two new lanes that were constructed to the west of the old roadbed.
“The decision was made to remove the piles due largely because of the number of complaints we had from people in the Wood River Valley.”
Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said Monday that he was not overly concerned about the asphalt slabs because they are about 50 feet away and slightly uphill from the traveled roadway. However, Ramsey said he does have concerns about the state the construction zone has been left in for the coming winter.
“I actually have more concerns about people trying to get in and out of the subdivisions,” Ramsey said, specifically mentioning the highway access point at Gimlet Road. “Because of the number of people who use that, I do have concern about it.”
There are other safety concerns too, voiced by motorists to ITD, to local officials and to the Idaho Mountain Express. Those concerns include a wide and deep ditch on the west side of the roadway on the south part of the construction zone, intermittent holes along the roadway, the narrowness of the highway just south of the intersection of Hospital Drive, low visibility at night and confusion from motorists as to the configuration of the traffic lanes. Motorists have further pointed out that the situation will get only worse with snow- or ice-covered roads.
East Fork resident Forrest Hymas is particularly concerned about the ditch.
“I drive that road almost daily,” he said. ‘You go along that road and that barrow pit is about 5 feet deep. If anyone slides off the road, they’re going to be upside down or on their side, and if there’s water in it they’re going to end up upside down and under water.”
Hymas is also concerned about small holes along the side the highway, calling them “hazard holes” or “death pits.”
“Every time I drive it, I see hazards,” Hymas said.
Jerke said ITD is not oblivious to public concerns but that no other changes, other than removing the asphalt, are planned until construction resumes next year.
“It’s not perfectly ideal, but it’s not a finished product; it’s a construction zone,” Jerke said. “People have raised a lot of valid arguments. In a perfect world, we would have had the project completed and those issues wouldn’t exist. It’s better to leave it in somewhat stable condition like it is rather than to open up more holes. Our maintenance crews have reviewed its condition and they are committed to keeping that road open and as safe as they can for the winter.”
ITD has maintained lower speed limits throughout the construction zone, with a 35 mph limit in the northern area and a 45 mph limit in the southern portion.
Ramsey said motorists need to be cognizant of the fact that the road is not finished.
“There again, I just advise people to use caution in this construction zone,” Ramsey said. “It’s still a construction zone and people need to use extreme caution in that area.”
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org