North Idaho Slow Growth
Jan 21, 2022
Many of us are very interested in the status of the Huetter bypass project. For the last few years it has been hard to get consistent information, but the project has now been passed to ITD (Idaho Transportation Dept.) for additional study. For those of us who oppose the current plan, this is not bad news for several reasons.
- ITD is committed to doing a "comparative analysis of alternative options to improve traffic flow in the county". What this means is that they are looking at more than just the Huetter corrido, and are considering mobility needs for the whole county as the population grows.
- The study will take at least a year, and public input will be considered. In other words, ITD appears to be committed to a more transparent approach than in the past and there appears to be time to make adjustments.
That said, I think we all need to be realistic and understand that the ITD traffic engineers involved will be planning a road system that enables significant growth in the area. There are, however, many reason why slow, organic growth for the region is healthier than a rapid out-of-control frenzy of development. And ITD may favor a development plan that occurs gradually over many years. A rational roadmap for incremental improvements over many different traffic corridors instead of focusing only on a north-south freeway would probably benefit everyone.
I contacted Megan Jahns of ITD, the public contact for the current study, a few weeks ago and she offered to answer a few questions about the current status of the project. There are limits of course, to what she can disclose about a project that is still in the planning stage, but overall her answers were very helpful, and I told her I would pass them on. Jahns' answers to my questions are indicated, and in some places I have added some additional clarifying comments in brackets.
[This first comment is from my introduction. It is not posed as a question but Jahns provided a helpful response.]
According to reports in the CDA press, ITD is "beginning a comparative analysis of alternate options to improve traffic flow in the county." But we have also heard from other sources that the proposed Huetter bypass is a "done deal" and that it may have been passed to ITD for political reasons. We would like to know the true status of the project, and we would also like to know who exactly within ITD is responsible for the study, what information they are using as guidance, and what state level elected officials are involved in oversight.
Answer: Our study will look at multiple options for improving traffic flow and connectivity in Kootenai County, which will include options beyond the long-studied Huetter route. Joey Sprague will be the project manager for the study, with support from Marvin Fenn, our engineering manager who has worked with KMPO over the years on the Huetter effort. Glenn Miles with KMPO convinced ITD leadership that ITD should manage the next phase as this route could have significance to our state system; for example, If ITD is to assume ownership of any new route, it will need to be designed via our process and to our standards.
[Glenn Miles is the appointed leader of the KMPO board and for several years has been a primary advocate of a "freeway solution" to the US-95 Corridor. He is involved with an organization that is working to expand freight transportation between the Inland Northwest and Canada.]
Q 1: Is a full 70 mph freeway along the Huetter corridor the main or only proposal being considered or is a scaled down version (possibly 45mph expressway or a narrower 50 mph highway) also being seriously reviewed?
Answer: Several options beyond the Huetter corridor will be examined as part of our study, though right now we don’t know what those options will be--we need to better identify the purpose of the project and rely on data to point to alternatives. At this point in time, we don’t know what the design speed will be. Our goal would be to design it to freeway standards with controlled access, which generally allows for higher speed limits. Again, at this point in time, our goal is not on designing a facility around a certain speed limit.
Q 2: How will this project be paid for and what is the proposed time frame?
Answer: Only the study is funded, not construction. The study is expected to take 1-2 years. There is no funding for construction, so there is no timeline on that.
Q 3: What population projections is the Idaho Transportation Department using to make its determinations, and what is the basis for these projections? Is the plan for a six-lane freeway along the Huetter bypass intended to facilitate rapid development of the region favored by developers, or to accommodate organic and gradual growth?
Answer: For all our projects in Kootenai County, we rely on projections from KMPO. The KMPO model comes from data provided by cities and the county, including population projections and land use decisions, as well as data from the Census. We are still defining the exact need for transportation between I-90/Pleasant View/SH-53/US-95 and ways we can meet that need, but our intention lines up with our mission: a transportation system that supports economic opportunity, provides mobility for users and is safe. Right now it is too early to identify alternatives, but what comes out of the process may not be a new freeway at all.
[I take this to mean that the study is focused on all of Kootenai county transportation needs, not just the bypass. This could be good news, because many of the county's transportation problems involve lack of east-west routes, and congestion points between highways, not just US-95 "through" traffic.]
Q 4: When and how will there be an opportunity for public input, and will the concerns and preferences of North Idaho residents be a significant factor in determining the best transportation solutions for the region?
Answer: Public input plays a large role in this type of process. We are just starting the study, which will include meeting with stakeholders one on one, consulting local entities and also going out the broader public for input. Right now the project schedule calls for an open house in the fall, but before then information will be made available online.
Q 5: Whenever government agencies make proposals, they are required to meet with "stakeholders". Who exactly are the "stakeholders" that are being consulted for this project by the Idaho Transportation Department.
Answer: Stakeholders are those who are affected by a project or those with an interest in the project. We are currently identifying stakeholders, but typically for a state highway project you would expect to see local officials (cities, highway districts, other state and federal agencies), EMS providers, and property owners at a minimum.
[The problem we have with "property owners" being consulted is that the project has been in planning for 20 years and many of the "property owners" are investors that may have "insider knowledge" and stand to reap enormous profits if the bypass is constructed. We would like to believe ITD engineers work for all the people of Kootenai County, not just the well-connected few]
Q: 6 There has long been an obvious need for a I-90 access to Huetter. There is already an underpass, so all that would be needed to provide I-90 access to Huetter in the short term is on and off ramps and signals. Huetter Rd is already 45 mph, with only two lights at Prairie and Hayden, and Boekel Rd is 50 mph with limited access from Huetter to 95, so a de facto "bypass" could be very easily implemented in the next few years without disruption and at a low cost. Undoubtedly, it would eventually be necessary to improve on this solution, but it seems this simple measure could resolve immediate pressures and allow ITD and KMPO valuable time to work towards a better long-term solution. It could even allow portions of a more substantial "bypass" to be implemented gradually over time in a less disruptive manner. If this is not already being considered by ITD as a temporary solution, why not?
Answer: As part of the study, data will be collected that will right-size any solution put in place at Huetter (or any other locations). Adding new access to the freeway is an alternative that would still take comparable time and effort to develop as the long-term plan, so right now our focus is on identifying the long-term plan. However, any construction funding that is allocated to this project may only allow it to be built in phases, in which case you could see a temporary improvement built prior to the long-term improvement.
Q 7: I would greatly appreciate it if you could point me to any other documents that are of relevance to this matter.
Answer: One of our first tasks will be setting up a project website to make information available, but right now we don’t have anything to share. If you are interested in the Huetter alignment specifically, the last study is available online here: https://www.kmpo.net/huetter-corridor-study/.
Links to Additional Information about the Huetter Corridor project
[This study has interesting information but is several years old. These are a few other websites that have information that pertain to the Huetter corridor plan, and other ITD projects.
- ITD Projects Planning, Design, and Construction
- ITD Huetter Bypass Planning Request for Proposal 2021
- KMPO Huetter Road Corridor Study Process
- KMPO Huetter Corridor Update 2021
We'd also like to see information about the transportation routes that ITD is considering in its current study, as soon as this information is publically available.]
ITD Contacts for the current Kootenai Road Planning Study
Marvin Fenn, ITD Engineering Manager of the study, can be reached at email@example.com.
Megan Jahns, ITD Office of Communication, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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