Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 was a busy year for highway news


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

    With megaload transportation, wildlife collisions and road construction, highway issues were abundant in Blaine County in 2013.
    The first of three megaloads of oil production equipment, bound for the Athabasca tar sands fields in Alberta, Canada, passed through southern Blaine County on U.S. Highway 20 early Tuesday morning. Earlier in 2013, road construction for an expansion project took place on a 3.75-mile section of state Highway 75 south of Ketchum. Throughout the year, the motoring public became increasingly aware of an increase in the number of vehicle collisions with wildlife, particularly deer and elk, leading to establishment of a reduced nighttime speed limit on a 2.75-mile stretch of Highway 75 just north of Hailey,

Wildlife collisions
    “Keep them alive on 75” is a phrase coined by Hailey Elementary School third-graders and placed on bumper stickers that the class generated to call attention to an increased frequency of wildlife-vs.-vehicle collisions on the highway.
    Earlier, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and the ITD recognized the problem and eventually agreed to a reduced nighttime speed limit in the county’s highest accident frequency area north of Hailey. Instead of 55 mph, the nighttime speed limit for the 2.75-mile stretch of highway is now 45 mph.
    Sheriff Gene Ramsey said in December that the reduced speed limit, which went into effect on Oct. 30, seemed to be working in reducing collisions with a large elk herd that lives in the Peregrine Ranch area.
    ITD also formed a Wildlife Crossing Committee as a public advisory group to help the department come up with additional solutions to reduce the number of collisions elsewhere in the county.

Highway construction
    Motorists in Blaine County might be getting the impression that highway construction is never going to go away, as the project that started last spring south of Ketchum will be resumed this spring.
    Public complaints were plentiful, both about traffic delays and safety during construction and the state in which the highway was left for the winter.
    At the urging of local officials, ITD directed its contractor, Idaho Sand and Gravel, to remove an unsightly row of asphalt slabs left along the road. ITD is now considering whether to fill in a large ditch and holes that were left along the highway in the construction zone.
    The construction project involves a 3.75-mile stretch of Highway 75 from Timber Way just north of East Fork Road to the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. When construction is finished, presumably this summer, the highway will have two lanes in both directions and center turn lanes and deceleration lanes at major intersections.
    The work is the first phase of a Highway 75 expansion project that if ever funded would extend from Timmerman Junction north to Saddle Road in Ketchum.
Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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