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.

Major construction planned in Coeur d’Alene area this summer

Major construction will impact north Idaho traffic in and around the Coeur d’Alene area this summer. Interstate 90, U.S. 95, and other area roads will be impacted. The Idaho Transportation Department is partnering with the city to reach out to the driving public with critical information on these upcoming impacts.

There may be five or six projects within a five-mile radius of town. The projects will repair and replace deficient pavements and upgrade routes and signs.

You can see a map of the projects here.

The pavement being replaced is deficient, and some of the work can be directly linked to this year’s rough winter. These projects will result in more efficient traffic flow, better visibility and improved safety.

Drivers are encouraged to slow down, pay attention and be aware. There will be lane closures, lane shifts, reduced speeds, and delays. Motorists may need to plan alternate routes if possible.  One of the best things a driver can do is check the traveler information system at 511.idaho.gov frequently.

“Look Twice for Motorcycles” during May’s Motorcycle Awareness Month

BOISE – Warming temperatures have people across the state looking for ways to get out and enjoy the spring weather. For many Idahoans, that enjoyment comes by riding a motorcycle on one of our many scenic highways.

“Idaho is a great place for motorcycle riding,” said Lane Triplett from the Idaho Coalition for Motorcycle Safety. “Our roads have beautiful scenic views that require varying degrees of technical riding ability, which is why riders from around the globe come to our state.”

Idaho’s beautiful highways have been a dangerous place for some motorcyclists — 140 people were killed in motorcycle crashes between 2011 and 2016, with 42 percent of those crashes involving other vehicles.

“Drivers and riders alike need to share the responsibility of keeping our roads safe,” said Triplett. “We realize it’s our job to ride safely and sanely but we want you to take that extra second and think about motorcyclists while we’re out on the highway.”

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and its partners in motorcycle safety remind drivers to “Look Twice for Motorcycles” to help prevent motorcycle rider deaths and injuries during May’s Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

“As drivers, we need to do our part and look out for motorcyclists because they are smaller and hard to see,” said Josephine Middleton, of ITD’s Office of Highway Safety.

“As motorcyclists, we need to wear protective gear and always be prepared for the worst, because in most crashes between motorcycles and other vehicles, the drivers of the other vehicle did not see the motorcycle until it was too late,” Middleton explained.

She offered tips to drivers on how to prevent a fatal crash with a motorcycle:

• Though a motorcycle is a small vehicle, its operator still has the same rights as any other motorist. Allow the motorcycle the full width of a lane at all times.
• Always signal when changing lanes or merging with traffic.
• If you see a motorcycle with a signal on, be careful: motorcycle signals are often non-canceling and could have been forgotten. Always ensure that the motorcycle is turning before proceeding.
• Check mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before changing lanes or merging with traffic, especially at intersections.
• Always allow more following distance – three to four seconds – when behind a motorcycle. This gives them more time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
• Never drive or ride distracted or impaired.

Completion of the Idaho STAR Motorcycle Rider Training Program may mean up to an 89-percent reduction in the risk of a fatal crash, according to analysis of crash data.

“Can you reduce your chance of crashing on a motorcycle? Yes, you can, by taking motorcycle-rider training,” said Sunshine Beer, director of the Idaho STAR Program.

Motorcyclists can increase their safety by following these steps:

• Wear a DOT-compliant helmet and other protective gear.
• Obey all traffic laws and be properly licensed.
• Use hand and turn signals at every lane change or turn.
• Wear brightly colored clothes and reflective tape to increase visibility.
• Ride in the part of the lane where you will be the most visible to drivers.
• Never ride distracted or impaired.

To learn more about the Idaho STAR motorcycle-rider training program, go to http://idahostar.org/

 

Flooding sends debris crashing into bridges

Bridge Snag Removal

ITD crews in the Treasure Valley are on high alert around the clock as prolonged flooding sends debris down river, creating blockages on bridges.

Entire trees have been uprooted by Boise River flows that well exceed the average. Currently, the river is at 8800 cfs at the Glenwood St. measuring station. This brings the water level close to the bottom of the bridge. You can watch a video of crews clearing debris from the ID-52 bridge in Emmett below.

Increased debris and higher water levels create more hazards to bridges. Branches can catch on the supports or bridge girders, which can lead to a domino affect of accumulating debris. This debris can raise the river levels more and adds pressure to the bridge supports. Left unchecked, this could lead to catastrophic failure.

To combat this threat, ITD has crews monitoring the bridges. They routinely check for debris build up and signs of stress on the bridge. Several excavators are also parked by bridges, which can be used quickly to break up any build up.

By patrolling regularly and stationing equipment nearby for ready use, ITD is positioned to keep this year’s record flooding from causing disaster to our road system.

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.

Idaho Transportation Board moving ahead with I-84 work via GARVEE

Garrity Interchange

The Idaho Transportation Board has approved funding to repair and add lanes on Interstate 84 between Franklin Boulevard and Karcher Road in Nampa in order to reduce congestion and improve safety in the region.

In a unanimous decision, the board approved $150 million in GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds. This allows the department to advance a widening project to reconstruct existing lanes, add a third lane in each direction, and upgrade bridges between Franklin and Karcher.

“We recognize this I-84 corridor presents immediate safety and congestion concerns,” said chairman of the board Jerry Whitehead. “ITD engineers have shown a readiness to tackle the project and the board supports moving quickly to improve this section of road.”

This Franklin to Karcher project is moving fast, thanks to ITD staff completing initial planning and environmental assessment.

“We have known this corridor is a top concern that affects all of Idaho,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “By adding lane miles, we can move more goods and services to businesses while reducing crashes. We thank the board for the opportunity to move forward as quickly as possible on this project.”

The $150 million authorization from the board is only half of the amount lawmakers allotted with Senate Bill 1206. Board members are reviewing other authorized corridors the bill outlined for GARVEE bonds.

“As we determine which projects to prioritize, we need the best information on all applicable corridors,” said Whitehead. “We look forward to getting that data from ITD engineers and moving forward in future board meetings.”

In future board meetings, the members will consider how best to spend the other revenue streams lawmakers created this year. That includes the surplus eliminator, one percent of sales tax, and a portion of the cigarette tax.

New transportation funding allows ITD to continue effective, efficient management

LEWISTON – Two transportation bills were passed into law at the end of the recent Idaho Legislative session, giving the Idaho Transportation Department access to millions of dollars to invest in improving the state transportation system and funding pedestrian-safety improvements.

During the Idaho Transportation Board meeting Friday (April 21) in Lewiston, board members will be given a list of possible projects to fund through the newly authorized GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds. These include four corridors with work left incomplete from the 2005-2014 GARVEE bonds.

The funding creates four revenue streams for transportation funding. First, they authorized ITD to borrow $300 million in GARVEE bonds. Next, they extended the “surplus eliminator” until 2019, with a 60/40 split among state and local transportation agencies. They also included 1 percent of sales tax and a portion of the cigarette tax going to a Congestion Mitigation Fund. This makes a total estimated funding of approximately $315 million.

This marks the second new road-funding package in recent years. In 2015, increases to the gas tax and registration fees allowed ITD to perform necessary maintenance on deteriorating infrastructure.

The new revenue from user fees has funded repairs on 60 projects across the state. All but a few of those projects were completed in just 18 months. The remaining few will finish this summer and fall.

Watch a video about the rapid repairs using new revenue here.

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!

Tips to Stay Safe on Flooded Roads

Water on road

Spring has sprung across the state, but the effects of one of the snowiest winters in recent memory are still being felt. Melting snow and spring rains have filled streams, creeks, and rivers across the state, increasing the likelihood of localized flooding.

“We urge drives to expect the unexpected,” said Mel Coulter, emergency program supervisor at ITD. “Local flooding is occurring statewide in areas where snow is rapidly melting and pooling on the highway.”

Water-covered roads can create hazardous conditions for drivers – it only takes about a foot of moving water on the road to cause a car to float away. Just a few inches of standing water can cause cars to hydroplane or stall. Water also can hide dangers just below the surface.

“Highways can be compromised or become unsafe because of a saturated road base. Water flowing across the highway has the potential for floating or sweeping vehicles from the road. Often those conditions are not readily visible,” said Coulter.

The first rule of driving through a flooded area is, don’t do it. The only sure way to avoid getting stranded is to find an alternate route.

If you can’t avoid a flooded area and have to drive through it, please take the following precautions:

  • When approaching a depth of standing water on a road, always slow down before entering it. Even a very shallow depth of water can cause hydroplaning if entered at speed. The tires effectively lose contact with the road, resulting in a loss of steering control.
  • If there are other vehicles around, watch what happens to them as they drive through the water. Doing so will help you judge its depth and how it affects the vehicle as well as warn of any hidden hazards beneath the surface.
  • Proceed into the water very slowly and maintain a steady pace so as not to lose momentum. If you go too quickly, you risk losing steering control. If you go too slowly, you run the risk of getting stuck.
  • Do not drive into water where power lines have fallen, as electric current can be conducted by water.
  • Be particularly cautious entering a flooded area at night as it is much more difficult to identify potential hazards.
  • Be considerate of others. Driving through water at speeds above a slow crawl can create a splash that inhibits the visibility of other drivers and soaks pedestrians or people trying to direct traffic.
  • Watch for debris or other items that may float into your path.
  • Once you are through the flooded area, be aware that your brakes will be wet and will not function normally until they dry. Light brake applications will help them dry out and return to normal more quickly.

 

If you become stranded, please consider the following:

  • If your engine stalls and doesn’t quickly restart, do not continue to try as doing so may cause more serious damage.
  • It is important to keep the situation from getting worse, so turn on your hazard warning lights to make sure other drivers can see you.
  • Use your cell phone to call for help.
  • If you can safely make it to higher ground on foot, leave the vehicle and do so. Be cautious of other traffic around you. Use caution when walking – moving water can make your footing unstable and maintaining your balance is more difficult.
  • If it seems unsafe to leave the vehicle, stay with it. If the water level becomes too high inside, you may want to climb onto the roof to await assistance.
  • Whatever the circumstance, keep calm and think through the best course of action and its consequences.
  • The best advice of all, however, is simple. Do not drive in flooded road conditions if at all possible.

 

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.