Spokane Journal of Business

$342 million widening set for U.S. 95

31-mile section of busy highway between Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint to become four lanes

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The Idaho Transportation Department is getting ready to submit to the Federal Highway Administration its final environmental impact statement for its planned conversion of 31 miles of U.S. 95 to a four-lane divided highway, says department spokeswoman Barbara Babic.

Once the environmental statement is approved, the way will be paved for the state to start acquiring the necessary rights of way along the first two sections approved for design and construction, she says.

Ultimately, the department will spend about $342 million on the project between Coeur dAlene and Sandpoint beginning with the first two sections, which are in a 12.7-mile stretch of road near Silverwood Theme Park at the north end of Kootenai County.

The department currently has $83 million in funds committed to the project, Babic says. She says U.S. 95 is the primary north-south corridor for the state, and has seen increased international commercial traffic since the enactment of NAFTA in 1994.

Babic says, however, that the reasons the department wants to improve the highway here have more to do with homegrown concerns.

That highway, for the most part, was built during the 30s to standards of the day. With the increase in local traffic, commercial traffic, and tourism, it has become outmoded, Babic says. She says theres been a steady increase in congestion over the entire stretch, worsened by a general increase in the size of modern vehicles.

The parts of the project that are approved for funding are in the Chilco and Athol areas at the northern end of Kootenai County. The department is doing engineering work, to acquire land for right of way and to construct $22 million worth of highway in the area, which extends from U.S. 95s intersection with state Route 53 north to Ohio Match Road, says Neil Handyside, the design and environmental manager for Connecting Idaho Partners, which is managing the project.

Connecting Idaho Partners is a consortium of Boise-based Washington Group International Inc. and Denver-based CH2M Hill Inc. that has been designated as the consultant to oversee the federal Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE) program in Idaho.

The GARVEE program allows states to borrow money for projects against future federal road funds. The Idaho Legislature so far has approved $465 million in GARVEE bonds to pay for this and other Idaho transportation projects, Handyside says.

A contract for design of the first section of the planned 31-mile highway conversion has been awarded to Keller Associates Inc. of Meridian, Idaho, and Handyside says that the southern part of the 6.7-mile Chilco section could go out for construction bids next summer. The second part of the Chilco section, from Ohio Match Road north, and the 6-mile Athol section are anticipated to get under way in 2009, he says.

So far, the approved funds cover just the four-lane divided highway, and dont include the on-ramps and off-ramps at interchange points that eventually will be constructed or the planned local road system improvements around those interchanges, Babic says. Until the Idaho Legislature approves funding for the interchanges, the highway will continue to have at-grade crossings.

Babic says an exit will serve busy Silverwood, though she couldnt say exactly where it will be. She says the department will pay for that interchange, as it will not be constructed specifically for the theme park, but will be at an appropriate location for an interchange to serve that area.

Babic says its not clear yet what traffic modifications will be made during construction, but when a contractor is selected it will have to submit a traffic management plan before beginning work.

Contact Jeanne Gustafson at (509) 344-1264 or via e-mail at jeanneg@spokanejournal.com.

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