North Idaho Slow Growth
The proposed Huetter freeway, if it is built as planned, will have a dramatic effect on all of North Idaho and deserves the attention of the community. It is a complicated proposal and there are other options, so there is much to say. However, the intention of this post is to answer just one important question: Will a bypass along the Huetter corridor relieve congestion on US-95?
The answer is no, not much. The vast majority of US-95 traffic is local, so routing "through traffic" to Huetter will do little to relieve backups in CDA and Hayden. This may seem counter-intuitive, but when you look at actual traffic patterns, only a small percentage of vehicle trips on US-95 pass directly from Lancaster to I-90. Over 85% of traffic originates locally.
Why then, is US-95 so congested? For comparison, it takes between 5 and 10 (rush hour) minutes to travel 3.5 miles from I-90 on Hwy 27 through the heart of Spokane Valley, but up to 20 minutes to travel the 4.5 miles from I-90 through Hayden. The traffic in CDA is worse than in Spokane Valley, which is surprising because the total population of northern CDA and Hayden is only about half that of the Spokane Valley. What then, is the problem?
The root of CDA traffic woes is a dysfunctional traffic grid which a bypass along the Huetter corridor does not fix and likely makes worse. So before discussing a multi-million dollar bypass that fails to address essential problems, lets take a closer look at CDA traffic.
WHAT IS A TRAFFIC GRID?
A traffic grid is a system of interconnected north-south and east-west arterials, that provide residents with an option of various routes to their destination. Until fairly recently, virtually all cities were designed using some form of grid pattern, but with privately developed subdivisions replacing conventional city blocks, some cities have neglected to maintain functional traffic grids. Unfortunately, if cities, such as CDA do not work effectively with developers, subdivisions with no through streets can create problems for the whole community. But before trying to understand the problems of CDA's poorly desigined grid, lets see what a functional, efficient traffic grid looks like.
Spokane Valley—Argonne to Sullivan/I-90 to 32nd (4x3.5 sq miles).
Spokane Valley has a population of over 100K people, almost all in the region shown above. In the area we are considering there are 8 east-west arterials and 9 north-south arterials, at half mile intervals. Only a few routes in either direction are four or more lanes. Almost all are 35 mph single lane roads, easily controlled by stop signs. Spokane Valley is easy to navigate and even during rush hour, traffic flows smoothly almost everywhere, including along Highway 27, which runs directly through a densely populated area.
Now that we’ve had a good look at a functional traffic grid, let’s take a gander at a not-so-functional traffic grid. A picture is worth a thousand words.
West Coeur d’ Alene—ID-95 to Meyer/I-90 to Prairie(4x3.5 sq. mi)
The red lines in the above map are NOT ROADS. They are critical thoroughfares, that DO NOT EXIST. They represent right-of-ways that COULD have served as useful arterials, but that were either vacated by the regional traffic district, or remain undeveloped. The purple circles indicate the points at which ALL SIX of the east-west arterials that cross US-95 dead end into subdivisions.
THE MISSING EAST-WEST ARTERIALS
What is extremely curious about these "missing east-west arterials", is that the county built and maintained north-south routes at mile intervals (Ramsay, Atlas, Huetter, Meyer), but for some undisclosed reason, abandoned all efforts to develop ANY east-west arterials for three miles immediately north of I-90. Prairie, Hayden, and Lancaster, which pass through far more remote areas, were all paved and have been maintained by the county for over fifty years, but the two major east-west thoroughfares between CDA and Post Fall (Hanley-Poleline, Kathleen-Mullen) have remained intentionally blocked. Why is this? Nothing this illogical and destructive to rational traffic flows could have possibly occurred by accident.
It is utterly fantastic that the six primary east-west arterials that serve north CDA were all considered important enough to justify an interchange on US-95, yet all dead end into subdivisions just west of the highway. Four of the six terminate before reaching Atlas, and none pass through to Huetter. Not only does this complete wreck of a traffic grid force all east-west traffic between Post Falls and CDA onto either Prairie or I-90, it means that three of the four existing north-south arterials between CDA and Post Falls (Atlas, Huetter, Meyer) are entirely under-utilized. There are no back routes, there are no short cuts, there are no alternate routes in case of an accident. It is especially unfortunate that there is no access to Huetter from anywhere between Seltice and Prairie, since both Atlas and Ramsay are blocked by the airport. In short, there is no operational traffic grid between CDA and Post Falls. But that's not all. . . .
THE MISSING FRONTAGE ROAD
Yet another problem contributing to the congestion of US-95 is the fact that the minor arterials Fruitdale and Howard which provided effective alternatives for local traffic just west of U-95 were terminated at Kathleen. Had one or both of these roads been continued they could have served as frontage roads west of US-95. If these routes had been developed, the businesses along US-95 could be accessed from the west, and fewer intersections on US-95 would be needed. Both businesses and residents would have been better served, yet neither city or county planners had the foresight necessary to insist on this. Why is this?
And this harmful abandonment of critical thoroughfares happened recently, long after planners should have been aware of likely development in the area. It is the older sections of CDA that have rational traffic patterns, and the newer areas, developed mainly in the last twenty or thirty years, that are inexcusably convoluted. Why is this?
To put it succinctly, there is no functional traffic grid in West CDA, and all periphral routes (Prairie, I-90, Ramsey, US-95) are unnecessarily overburdened. Residents are often forced onto heavily used arterials with lights and congestion because there are no serviceable “back routes”, much less the type of robust selection of routes that a functional traffic grid would have provided.
THE HOLY GROUND
The elephant in the room is not the Huetter corridor, but all of the land surrounding it. For some undisclosed reason, the acreage surrounding Huetter is considered sacrosanct by the local traffic districts, by all surrouding city governments, and by the County. No roads must pass through and no mention must be made of the possibility of an east-west arterial besmirching the holy ground! The traffic districts have lists of dozens of planned projects that are scheduling over the next five to ten years, yet arterial connections to Huetter appear nowhere on any list. Why is this?
Even more curious, if there was a pressing need for a Huetter bypass, just building a simple I-90 interchange could have been easily and inexpensively done years ago. Boekel is 50 mph to Huetter, and Huetter is 45 mph to the freeway, with only two lights on the entire route. So there you have your Huetter bypass on the cheap. It has only been an off-ramp away for the last 20 years.
Yet this overwhelmingly obvious solution, which would allow gradual improvement to all involved roadways, with very little traffic disruption, is also a hush, hush topic, not to be discussed. Why is this?
The silence is deafening, and the mysterious behavior of local governments and traffic departments invites a certain amount of speculation. CDA's proposed comprehensive plan would drastically increase traffic in the very areas which are today most heavily congested, yet there are no public plans to address the pathologically inefficient traffic grid in West CDA. And make no mistake, a functional traffic grid and ONLY a functional traffic grid can solve CDA's congestion problems. Directing all traffic onto the same heavily used peripheral routes, instead of providing direct east-west access makes congestion inevitable.
Kootenai county residents deserve answers before any proposed north-south bypass is approved or before any CDA neighborhoods are rezoned for higher densities. Why have Kootenai traffic engineers abandoned any effort to address east-west blockages, or develop US-95 frontage roads? Maybe there are good explanations for blocking all access to Huetter road for 30 years, although its hard to imagine what they might be. Maybe what appears to be a diabolical plot to make driving as miserable as possible in Kootenai county, is just "smart growth" in action. If so, maybe we need less growth in our urban areas, and more smarts in our traffic design.
Debra Schreibeis says (Feb 14, 2022):
Our family lives on Poleline between Meyer and Huetter and the traffic has increased significantly. It is a 40 mph road but people are passing each other constantly and driving at speeds of 70+mph at times. Drivers are pulling out of Foxtail blowing through the stop signs onto Poleline, happened just today again! Dangerous to go for a walk because of traffic or ride a bike, even to get to Big Sky to walk where the speed limit is 25 mph! Also see sooooo many Washington plates here, which obviously increases the problem. We have heard that the plan is to turn Poleline into a 4 lane road by 2030. NOT happy about that as we have already been through one imminent right of domain property taking when we lived where Chompers cafe is currently located at Stoddard Park. Was my family’s home for years! We move to Poleline and now possibly having to look at it happening again is so disheartening, but those developers gotta get their money and cram the houses and apts in wherever they’ll fit even if sideways! I do not proclaim to have any of the answers but it has not been well advertised that meetings are being held on the subject either or where you can have any input!