Construction is expected to resume soon on state Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum, possibility as early as April 15, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.
“They’re watching the weather and making plans to get it done,” ITD Project Development Engineer Walter Burnside said at a Thursday meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee. Burnside was referring to ITD construction contractor Idaho Sand & Gravel Co., which suspended work on a large-scale Highway 75 project after wintry weather set in last fall.
The project involves widening of a 3.75-mile section of the highway from Timber Way just north of East Fork Road to the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital. The project was started in 2013. ITD has not released information as to how long the work will last this coming summer.
The project is the first construction phase of a Highway 75 expansion plan that was approved through a 2008 environmental impact statement. The EIS covered widening of the highway from Timmerman Junction south of Bellevue all the way north to Saddle Road in northern Ketchum.
The expansion plan is far from fully funded, but ITD believes it has enough funding left from an original $27 million Federal Highway Administration allocation to complete not only the first phase of the expansion plan but a second construction phase as well.
That phase would widen the highway from the bridge near St. Luke’s north to the intersection with Elkhorn Road. It would also consist of replacing the existing Big Wood River bridge near St. Luke’s.
Construction of the second phase, expected to be done in 2016, was discussed at Thursday’s Regional
Transportation Committee meeting by Todd Johnson, a senior project engineer with Parametrix Inc., a Boise company hired for design of the project, and Mike Pepper of KMP Planning, a Twin Falls company hired to provide public involvement in planning the project.
Johnson and Pepper explained that the new project will involve bridge replacement and widening a .68-mile section of the highway.
Pepper said that two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, would be maintained while construction was under way. He also explained how bridge reconstruction would work.
“The existing bridge will be used for traffic initially while a new bridge on the west side is being built,” Pepper said. “After that’s done, traffic will be flipped over to the new bridge and construction then started on the east side.”
Pepper said design of the bridge also will include a parking area for recreation vehicles, since the area used now on the northwest side of the existing bridge will be used for the new bridge.
The plight of wildlife, particularly deer and elk, crossing back and forth across state Highway 75 has been a significant concern of government agencies and the public for about the last year and a half. A reduced nighttime speed limit was put in place late last year on the highway north of Hailey, but ways to further reduce the risk of vehicle and wildlife collisions are being considered in the designs for highway construction.
Pepper said the new bridge design may include a passage way underneath the highway for larger animals, a desire that has been expressed by members of the Wildlife Crossing Committee, which is an advisory group to the Regional Transportation Committee.
“We’ve already had a meeting with the subcommittee of this group to look at wildlife passage under the bridge,” Pepper said.
In addition to considering the new bridge for a safe wildlife crossing, ITD is also considering new signage to increase motorist awareness of the situation.
ITD Senior Environmental Planner Connie Jones wrote in a recent email to Wildlife Crossing Committee members that the agency is designing “nontraditional” signs that might be considered for posting along high wildlife density areas. A copy of one such sign, showing a smashed car after it collided with a large elk, was sent last week to committee members for comment.
Most committee members who commented on the sign said they liked the design but stated that it should include words such as “warning” or “caution.”