New temporary road for Idaho 5 opens

crews build temporary road

Completing a new temporary route east of Plummer and west of St. Maries earlier than expected, the Idaho Transportation Department has given motorists a detour around a section of Idaho State Highway 5 recently decimated by moisture under the road and slides.

The new 500-foot-long route opened in time for the morning commute Wednesday, with temporary signals at each end of the route guiding traffic. A solid concrete guardrail will be placed on the edge to safeguard drivers.

Work on the temporary route began last Thursday. Crews placed a rock base, rolled it to compact the base, and placed a layer of top fill gravel and dirt on top.

To provide a smoother surface for drivers and protect the new temporary route around Idaho 5 between St. Maries and Plummer, Idaho Transportation Department crews will pave the new 500-foot-long temporary route Friday night (March 31) with about 2.5 inches of asphalt.

The paving will start at 8 p.m. Friday and finish by 3 a.m. Saturday. This timeframe as chosen because it will impact the fewest travelers, as the lowest traffic volumes are overnight.

The temporary route will be completely closed during this paving. Detour routes are Idaho 6 to the south, connecting with U.S. 95, or Idaho 3 to the north, connecting to Interstate 90.

The temporary route will remain in place as Idaho 5 is rebuilt over the next several months. The larger reconstruction will likely last through mid-summer, but will not begin until geologists make a determination on the stability of the road area.

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.

Springtime in Idaho offers different set of road maintenance challenges

Spring Road Conditions

As Idaho prepares to emerge from a historic winter that brought the most snow many areas had seen in decades, a new set of challenges face our road maintenance crews.

Hillsides saturated by snow and rain can release rockslides given the slightest provocation. Moisture coming in on the top of existing snowpack bring the threat of springtime avalanches. Suddenly higher temperatures lead to extensive melting, flood watches statewide and water-over-the-roadway concerns.

And drivers emerge from winter hibernation to return to area highways. It is as critical as ever for motorists to have access to current travel information, available at 511.idaho.gov.

Meanwhile, ITD crews will be constantly monitoring our state roads, looking for break-up, potholes, hazards, and general deterioration. The department is committed to removing or repairing any problem areas as soon as possible.

McGrath selected as new Chief Operations Officer

ITD Director Ness announced on Wednesday, March 1 that Travis McGrath has been selected as ITD’s new Chief Operations Officer following a thorough national search during the last several months. He is expected to start in late March.

Travis comes to ITD from the private sector. He has been the Pacific Northwest and Alaska “Operations Leader” at Golder Associates the past seven years and with the company for nearly 20 years.

“What stood out about Travis was his ability as a strong communicator and consensus builder, his strong decision-making experience and his understanding of the engineering side of operations, along with his diverse business background,” said Director Ness. “Travis has shown a history of setting the vision and holding those around him accountable throughout his career.”

Travis said he’s excited to move from Seattle area to serve ITD and the people of Idaho. He plans to begin this new chapter of his career at the end of March.

“I was intrigued by ITD’s recent transformation, which is impressive by any measure,” said McGrath. “I’ve held operational leadership roles in two diverse settings (US Army and consulting engineering) and recently navigated through a major organizational change like ITD’s. I believe that these experiences, along with my passion for teamwork and continual improvement, will help ITD continue its important mission through pursuit of innovation, risk management, and focusing on results.”

Travis brings a strong military background to this position. He served as a Combat Engineer Officer for more than a decade on active duty and as a reserve. He led a platoon during both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

Travis replaces Jim Carpenter who served ITD for more than 31 years the last three-and-a-half as Chief Operations Officer.

North Idaho drivers seeing blue as ITD crews use new road salt

As winter weather continues in the region, drivers in north Idaho are now seeing blue as ITD maintenance crews begin using a new blue salt product. The new salt may represent the next stage in the department’s efforts to improve road-clearing efforts and resulting public safety.

According to the manufacturer, Saltworx, the blue salt is less corrosive than traditional salt, and less of the new blue salt is needed to achieve the same results that traditional salt can provide, so it is potentially a cost savings as well.

“We are just experimenting with it at this stage, but it has the potential to save money, some wear-and-tear on vehicles, and most importantly, be more effective on the roads,” said ITD’s north Idaho management assistant, Mike Lenz.

The new blue salt will be used on 1,500 miles of area roads across the region.

Drivers advised to watch for potholes, roadway breakup

As a winter for the ages rages on, potholes are developing in roadway surfaces across the state. Record precipitation and multiple freeze-thaw cycles are causing distress in many of the highways we all rely on for safe travel. ITD maintenance crews are maintaining roadways and fixing potholes when possible.