Tin Cup Beaver Dam Restoration project benefits wildlife and ITD

POCATELLO – If Ruffles have ridges, what do riffles have? Beavers, it turns out.

When a few beaver dams on Tin Cup Creek in southeast Idaho started backing up water last fall at a culvert on Idaho Highway 34 and threatening to undermine the road, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) was faced with the complication of adding underwater bridge inspections for that remote site.

Instead, they added riffles — really good riffles. ITD constructed the riffles (rocky or shallow parts of a rough-water stream or river) to entice the beavers to build. That’s exactly what they did.

ITD crews first removed three beaver dams downstream of the culvert to lower the water level at the crossing. They also removed one dam just upstream of the structure, which lowered the stream channel and de-watered adjacent wetlands in a stretch of the creek.

In collaboration with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ITD crews repaired the stream by building two in-stream rock riffles over two days in mid-July. The result was better than what Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game (IDFG) wildlife fisheries biologist Corey Lyman expected.

The photo above shows Mark Porter (ITD District 5 Maintenance Operations) operating a Track Machine while building a riffle. The photo below, taken Aug. 8, shows a beaver dam already built on the new riffles.

The work not only stabilized the channel and protected the culvert, but also permanently raised the creek bottom, which had eroded down enough to disconnect the water from the creek banks and willow-filled floodplain. Streambed work also improved habitat for fish and for all wildlife living in the area.

“Without water reaching the river banks, the streamside wetlands were drying up and dying, and we were losing the habitat,” explained D5 Sr. Environmental Planner Alissa Salmore. “We essentially re-watered the area.”

The project also allowed members of ITD’s Pocatello, Soda Springs/Wayan, and Montpelier Maintenance sheds to gain experience in stream restoration work. This added to their skill set and reinforced environmental awareness.

Plus, it has already been successful.

“The fish were moving into the dams and claiming territory as we were cleaning up and leaving the project,” said Mark Porter of District 5 Maintenance Operations.

Porter also said that beavers have already begun building over the riffles, which was exactly the intent.

Idaho Transportation Board moves forward on Northgate Interchange (Siphon Road) project

Northgate Interchange Plan

BOISE – The Idaho Transportation Board unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that allows the Idaho Transportation Department to move forward with an agreement to develop a public private partnership to build the Northgate Interchange (Siphon Road) in Bannock County.

The overall project will connect parts of north Pocatello and Chubbuck to Interstate 15 near Siphon Road. Under the agreement, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) would administer the construction of the interchange portion of project and the other partners would construct connecting road infrastructure.

The partnership consists of Millennial Development, city of Chubbuck, city of Pocatello, Bannock County, Pocatello Development Authority and ITD.

“This interchange presents a unique opportunity to work closely with the private sector and other local agencies,” said Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead. “We understand why local residents are excited about this project. We think it will increase mobility and bring greater economic opportunity for the community.”

As part of the agreement, ITD and Millennial Development will share costs of building the $8.4 million interchange. The other partners will share the costs of building connecting infrastructure.

The agreement calls for the Millennial Development to pay $3.4 million up front and then ITD would contribute $5 million for the construction of the interchange.

Public comment sought on I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project

I-15 Sign

POCATELLO – The public is invited to submit input via an online comment portal on the proposed Interstate 15/Siphon Road Interchange project. The project is currently being developed, with construction starting as early as 2018.

The interchange will be built approximately three-quarters of a mile north of the Chubbuck Road overpass (milepost 73.5) in Bannock County.

The public comment portal can be found at: http://arcg.is/1quH81.

The portal includes a comment form and map featuring the preliminary design of the proposed interchange and its local connector roads. Additionally, it allows users to view a listing of all submitted comments.

The I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project includes the construction of a bridge over I-15 with interstate highway entrance/exit ramps. Any new local roads connecting the existing local-road network to the new interchange will be built by local entities prior to the completion of the new interchange.

The need for the interchange arises from the following issues:

– Limited existing access to I-15 north of the I-15/I-86 junction causes out-of-direction travel that contributes to congestion on U.S. 91 (Yellowstone Avenue)

– Limited existing access to I-15 north of the I-15/I-86 junction is not expected to accommodate the area’s projected future growth northeast of Pocatello and Chubbuck in Bannock County

– Crash rates on U.S. 91 and I-15 in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area exceed statewide averages

Since the previous public outreach for the I-15/Siphon Road Interchange project was concluded more than five years ago, the transportation department will provide an update on the project and invite the public to submit comments on the proposed interchange layout.

Comments are being accepted through July 31. They can be e-mailed to adam.rush@itd.idaho.gov, or to greydon.wright@itd.idaho.gov. Comments also can be mailed to: Idaho Transportation Department, Attn: Adam Rush, 3311 W. State Street, Boise, ID  83703.

Those with questions about the project can contact Adam Rush at (208) 334-8119, or Greydon Wright at (208) 239-3317.

For questions or comments regarding the construction of the new local connector roads outside interstate right-of-way, please contact the city of Chubbuck, city of Pocatello, or Bannock County.

ITD gearing up for eclipse chasers

Preparations at ITD Headquarters and in the districts are well underway for the 2017 total solar eclipse.

Officials throughout the department are planning for the event, coordinating with state and local governments and other community leaders on preparations.

ITD wants to make viewing of the solar eclipse in Idaho a safe and enjoyable experience for residents and visitors alike by keeping highways open and traffic flowing.

In case you haven’t heard, the eclipse is a big deal. The moon will fully obscure the sun for more than two minutes, completely shadowing a narrow band of the lower 48 for the first time since 1979.

Southern Idaho lies in the center of that band, which is referred to as the “Path of Totality.” The moon’s umbra shadow will pass over the countryside through this band.

ITD is developing an incident-response plan, identifying locations that may become bottlenecks, and developing traffic-control plans. Officials tentatively anticipate they may suspend highway construction Friday through Wednesday.

Make your plans – and support ITD in making its preparations. The agency aims to provide the level of service expected of the best transportation department in the country.

To catch the excitement of this major celestial event, see the projected path of the shadow as it passes over Idaho https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4515.

The state’s typically sunny August weather means there is a good chance there will be few, if any, clouds in the sky when the eclipse occurs.

The point isn’t lost on eclipse chasers, who have booked up motels, campgrounds and even homes in the region to view the “totality.”

They also like the fact that Idaho is situated at a high altitude, closer to the sky than many parts of the country. Estimates are for tens and even hundreds of thousands of people to descend on Idaho — some projections put the migration at more than one million.

The event begins in the late morning of August. 21 in Weiser and ends in the early afternoon in Driggs. Other towns in the center of the path are Mackay, Mud Lake, Rigby, Rexburg and Victor. Area residents should buckle up.

If you unavailable, uninterested or have other plans August 21 and intend to catch the next total solar eclipse in Idaho, prepare to wait for 152 years.

I-15 work begins soon between Lava Beds and Bonneville County Line

I-15 Fort Hall-Burns Rd.
I-15 Lava Beds
Map of I-15 Lava Beds to Bonneville County project

Work will begin work Monday (May 1), weather permitting, to resurface eight miles of Interstate 15 from the Lava Beds to the Bonneville County Line. I-15 will be reduced to one lane in both directions in the project area until later this summer. This project is among 10 maintenance projects scheduled this year along 190 miles of I-15 in eastern Idaho.

Construction began between the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and Blackfoot earlier this month, and additional work is scheduled to begin in Pocatello later in May.

During construction, motorists are urged to plan extra time when traveling through the construction zone, pay attention to signage and changing traffic patterns, and slow down.

Bad crash brings silver lining

Truck crash signal

Keeping our roads safe often requires a lot of partnerships – from local governments, to businesses, and even drivers. ITD crews in eastern Idaho are receiving praise for their efforts to repair a heavily damaged traffic signal in Pocatello.

“I cannot recall a project that went as smoothly as this one,” said Mike Neville the Traffic Operations Supervisor for the City of Pocatello.

Signal Repair Pocatello
Crews repair a signal badly damaged in a crash

The signal at the corner of Oak and Yellowstone in Pocatello was heavily damaged earlier this month after it was hit by a truck. Within a week workers from District 5 were ready to make repairs with a brand new signal pole.

“They did a great job of ensuring that the replacement pole was ready, on site, and would fit on the foundation,” Neville said. “It was nice to have such successful cooperation between ITD and the City of Pocatello.”

Replacing the pole took ITD crews away from their families so they could work with while there were fewer cars on the road. Their professionalism, even on their off-day, was noted by those in the area.

“While I do not look forward to additional poles being struck by vehicles, I do look forward to being able to work together again in the near future,” said Neville.

Traffic sensors will aid traffic flow on I-15 during upcoming construction

Blutooth-enabled snesor

To aid traffic flow for tens of thousands of drivers during upcoming construction on Interstate 15 in eastern Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is turning to new technology. Bluetooth-based roadway sensors in the Interstate 15 median will provide real-time travel information during construction starting later this spring.

I-15 Project Map
Map showing construction projects along I-15 for 2017

Between this spring and next year, ITD will resurface deteriorated pavement on I-15 and make numerous bridge repairs. Construction will include multiple work zones along a 140-mile stretch of I-15 between Utah and Montana.

More than 50 sensors will be connected to portable message signs (similar to those seen in this picture, but attached to poles rather than sign posts) located at the beginning of construction zones to communicate traffic impacts ahead. Sensors pick up the Bluetooth signal on phones or in vehicles as they pass any two points in the work zone, and the times between them are calculated in order to find average travel speeds.

ITD will also make the real-time travel data available to the public through a mobile app being developed, and is working to place the information on the project website.

The sensors will help ITD monitor traffic conditions during summer/fall construction, and during the winter months.

“This technology will give us reliable traffic data we can use to maximize traffic flow and make our work zones safer,” said Dan Harelson, ITD District 5 Engineering Manager. “ITD is asking motorists to plan extra time to travel through construction. Pay attention to signage and changing traffic patterns this summer.”

Similar Bluetooth sensors have been used successfully at various places in Idaho and Utah. The sensors will be removed once construction is complete on I-15. Additional sensors will be installed on U.S. 20 and U.S. 91 during the same timeframe.

To request email updates during I-15 construction, email comments@itd.idaho.gov or text INTERSTATE15 to 22828. The I-15 App will be available later this year on Google Play and the App Store.

I-15 port features new tech, $2.1M annual savings

POCATELLO – New Weigh-in-Motion/Automatic Vehicle Identification (WIM/AVI) technology recently installed in southeastern Idaho at the Inkom Port of Entry (POE) is expected to fast-track benefits for commercial vehicles using the scales, the general motoring public, and local economies to the tune of $2.1 million annually.

Approximately 3,100 commercial vehicles use the port each day, and another 14,000 passenger vehicles pass by on Interstate 15. The estimated annual savings to the industry is based on time and fuel savings. If a truck is compliant, this message appears on the sign near the roadway and the truck can continue.

The motoring public will also see less congestion in the area of the weigh station because fewer trucks will be required to pull in for processing.

“The possibilities are exciting,” said David Hankla, who manages ITD Ports of Entry in eastern and southeastern Idaho. “The system has been fine-tuned compared to earlier installations, so the potential upside is tremendous.”

The WIM/AVI system allows commercial trucks that meet state size and weight limits to bypass weigh stations at highway speeds. It is estimated that 50 to 60 percent of commercial truck traffic will be able to bypass the port.

Loops embedded in the roadway track the movement of each vehicle through the system, which registers the vehicle’s weight and axle configuration as it travels over the scales at highway speed. As truck drivers cruise down the highway, the electronic system verifies that the truck’s legal weight, height, length, safety rating and credentials are in adherence with the law.

If everything checks out legally, the truck driver receives a green light on their transponder or a message on a changeable message sign directing them to bypass the weigh station and continue on its route. Conversely, if there are any legal issues, the driver receives a red light or direction to report to the weigh station for further inspection. Drivers may also receive a red light for a random pull-in.

This allows more time to be spent checking commercial vehicles for weight and safety violations. Trucks running safe and legal loads benefit by not being slowed down with redundant stops as they make their way across country. Economically, more freight moved more efficiently means better profit margins for the industries affected.

The installation south of Pocatello finished in late January. A grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration kick-started the project. ITD’s part of the match was $596,000 for building slabs and conduit runs to support scale installation and hardware for the WIM system. The project was fast-tracked from project design phase to construction due to extremely tight grant deadlines.

Similar systems have been installed at the East Boise POE, the Huetter POE in Coeur d’Alene, and at the Lewiston POE. The Sage Junction POE in eastern Idaho, about 60 miles south of the Montana border, is slated for the next WIM/AVI installation, starting later this year. WIM/AVI locations are determined by factors such as volume of commercial truck traffic, need, and industry input.