Fire season closing south-central Idaho roads

wildfire damaged sign

It’s been a busy couple weeks; fire season is officially here. It started as soon as a human-caused fire closed Interstate 84 near Glenns Ferry on June 5. As soon as winter snows melted and spring floods subsided, summer dryness hit the lowlands.

The past two weeks has seen a series of small brush fires grow out of control and close several routes throughout southern Idaho – I-84 near the Utah border for several hours, U.S. 26 on two occasions between Bliss and Shoshone, Idaho Highway 75 north of Shoshone, as well as U.S. 93 and Idaho Highway 24 near Shoshone.

Truck coated in retardant
This ITD truck, used to close U.S. 93 at the south entrance to Shoshone during the Antelope Fire on July 10, got coated in fire retardant by an aerial tanker.

The latest, the Antelope Fire, started last Sunday around 6:30 p.m. It originally started off U.S. 26, between Shoshone and Gooding, following a lightning strike in the sagebrush desert of western Lincoln County. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resources struggled to gain control through the night, due to high winds and high temperatures. The fire jumped U.S. 26 several times.

Around 10 a.m. Monday, the south side of the fire kicked up and made a push on Shoshone.

“The winds were burning at approximately 25 mph, with even higher gusts,” said BLM Fire Information Officer Kelsey Brizendine. “This caused the fire to make a push at 93, which, thanks to our great partners at ITD, was closed down. This closure remained in effect for several hours, giving firefighters the space they needed, as well as keeping the public safe.”

The Antelope Fire closed U.S. 93 just before noon, pushed across the highway, closed Idaho 24 at about 1 p.m. and threatened buildings near Shoshone. The fire was all but out on Tuesday morning, but ended up at burning about 29,493 acres.

“This is going to be a busy year,” Brizendine added. “The fuel is thick, dry and the wind makes things hard.”

Many areas of Idaho are already under high fire danger due to fuel loads and dry conditions. Many of the initial fires that have affected southern Idaho highways have been human caused — only the Antelope Fire was from lightning, giving extra importance to the impact residents and road users have on the travel and public safety.

The BLM reminds the public that whether you are recreating or traveling on the highways or back roads, keep fire prevention in mind and follow these fire prevention tips:

On the road:
· Keep tires properly inflated.
· Grease your wheel bearings.
· Tie up trailer safety chains.
· Do not drive or park in tall, dry grass.

At the campground:
· Have a shovel, bucket, and water nearby.
· Make sure your campfire is completely out. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

Target Shooting:
· Check weather conditions. Hot + Dry + Wind = Quick-Spreading Wildfires
· Choose a shooting area that is clear of dry grass/vegetation and rocks.
· Always bring water, a fire extinguisher and a shovel.
· Discharging a firearm using incendiary, steel core or tracer ammunition is prohibited on BLM lands from May to October 20.
· Burning, igniting or causing to burn explosive material, including exploding targets is prohibited on BLM lands from May to October 20.

ITD performance, innovation chronicled by United Kingdom media

Dramatically improved performance benefiting the road user has raised the profile of the Idaho Transportation Department nationally, and beyond. The article linked below comes from Traffic Technology International, a media outlet from the United Kingdom:

Read Article

ITD is actually mentioned twice in the magazine — there is a second article, about Weigh-In-Motion technology, that runs from pages 38-42.

 

 

 

More than decade later, ITD wetland of flowers, animals and grasses flourishing in tiny Genesee

D2 Wetlands

What was once a wind-blown wheat field near the small Idaho town of Genesee is now an environmental success story. A dozen years later, ITD has created a thriving, marshy wetlands area where one never existed before.

Genesee, a town of fewer than 1,000 folks, is a quiet community resting in the rolling hills and prairie that dominate Idaho’s Palouse country, midway between Moscow and Lewiston. When road construction on U.S. 95 in the spring of 2005 from the top of Lewiston Hill to Genesee required using some land designated as wetlands, ITD spearheaded a mitigation project to construct wetlands as compensation.

The project became known as “Cow Creek Wetland,” located along a half-mile of Cow Creek in Latah County next to Genesee between two county roads — Morscheck and Kreier

ITD eventually created almost 11.5 acres of wetland and riparian area to mitigate for area impacted by the highway project, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Construction started in 2005, as there were wells drilled at each corner of the area to provide water for the irrigation system and help plants get established. Excavation, irrigation system and initial plantings were completed that year. Nearly 24,000 containerized trees and shrubs were part of the mitigation plan. In addition, there were almost 35,000 plugs of wetland grasses, rushes, sedges, and more planted in 2005.

D2 Wetlands Before After
A before-and-after shot shows how this landscape has been transformed.

Then came the winter of 2005/2006, when roughly 90 percent of those wetland plugs were lost due to frost heaves. So, planners returned to the drawing board.

Spring of 2006, wetland areas were broadcast-seeded to compensate for the loss that first winter. In addition to seeding and planting, trees removed during the project were placed in the wetland as habitat snags, and in November of 2007 an additional 2,500 containerized plants were planted as warranty to replace trees and shrubs that had died.

The irrigation system, installed to provide watering as the vegetation got established, was turned off in 2008 to encourage plants to acclimate to their natural conditions.

By August of 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stamped the site as completed.Many Genesee residents, who also use it for bird watching, today use the Cow Creek Wetland as a walking trail.

Most impressively, it is used as a wetland ecology classroom by the local high school.

ITD unveils new highway signs to honor Vietnam veterans

Travelers along Interstate 84 in Idaho can now see reminders of the sacrifice made by Idaho men and women who served in Vietnam more than 40 years ago. The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is installing the new road signs along I-84, which has been officially designated as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.

The new 4’ x 8’ signs will replace smaller signs placed earlier along the interstate through a partnership between ITD and veterans groups. Eight signs will be installed along I-84 between the borders with Oregon and Utah.

In 2014, the Idaho Legislature made the designation in honor of more than 44,000 Idahoans who served in the war. Two hundred and seventeen of those soldiers were killed in combat, more than 1,000 Idaho heroes were wounded, and eight are still unaccounted for and considered missing in action.

“Idaho has a great history of service to our country,” said ITD Chief Operating Officer Travis McGrath. “These new signs allow us to show our appreciation for those men and women who stood up to protect our freedom.”

Public comment sought on Idaho Transportation Investment Program (ITIP)

The department is seeking public comment from July 1-30 on the draft of the Idaho Transportation Investment Program (ITIP), and all transportation stakeholders are encouraged to participate. The draft ITIP can be viewed online.

The ITIP is a “roadmap” for planning and developing transportation projects from FY2018 to 2024, including:

–  Highways and bridges
–  Bicycle and pedestrian facilities
–  Highway safety
–  Railroad crossing safety
–  Airports
–  Public transportation
–  Transportation planning
–  Freight

The Idaho Transportation Project Map is an online, interactive map that allows users to choose specific categories of draft ITIP projects, and learn about work that is planned for any area of Idaho. The draft ITIP document lists projects by highway route and location, identifies projected years for right-of-way acquisition, preliminary engineering, construction and estimated project costs. It also lists local construction projects that are federally funded.

Public comments will help the department determine if proposed projects meet the department’s main objectives of improving safety, mobility and economic opportunity.

The ITIP relies on input from elected officials, citizens, tribal governments, other state and federal agencies, Idaho’s metropolitan planning organizations, the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council, and other interested organizations.

Comments can be e-mailed to adam.rush@itd.idaho.gov or mailed to ITIP – Comments, Attn: Adam Rush, P.O. Box 7129, Boise, ID  83707-1129. Paper or CD copies of the ITIP will be provided upon request by contacting Rush at (208) 334-8119 or by e-mail at adam.rush@itd.idaho.gov.

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.

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.

Drive smart: slow down in work zones

Go Orange Message

Construction season is once more gearing up across Idaho which means plenty of orange on the roads – on both people and cones.

Of course the orange isn’t there to make you think of hunting season or add some color to your drive. It’s to make you aware of the dangers present in work zones. When ITD employees wear orange they want you to see them and to slow down!

This year, more than 100 members of ITD’s staff who aren’t typically out on the roads came together and wore orange to share this message of safety, and to show support for those who take risks repairing and maintaining our roads and bridges. You can see a video of the event below.

Don’t forget, fines for traffic violations increase in work zones. More importantly, you can help be an agent for change by slowing down and driving cautiously when you come to a construction project.

Help our people make it home safe this year!