Construction to begin on I-84 exit 90 ramps near Mountain Home

crews rebuild road ramp

MOUNTAIN HOME – Construction on the I-84 Business Loop outside Mountain Home continues and will move to the westbound on- and off-ramps for Interstate 84 at Exit 90.

The complete rebuild of the ramps is expected to start Monday, July 24. Crews will be working during the day so the traveling public is advised to use caution while driving in the project zone. Construction on this section is expected to last three weeks.

During this time, the westbound off-ramp will be closed to traffic. Vehicles wider than 11 feet will not be allowed on the westbound on-ramp. Detours will be in place and all traffic is advised to use Exit 95. The speed limit will also be reduced to 45 mph.

This is the next phase of a project that is rebuilding the ramps and a roughly one-mile stretch of the I-84 Business Loop (Old U.S. 30). Sunroc Corp. is the contractor for this $2.4 million project.

Note: Previously, the westbound off-ramp was planned to stay open with width and length restrictions. Plans have been revised to close the ramp altogether.

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 one of only two western states to win multiple regional transportation awards

BOISE – Two Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) efforts — a massive clean up of a landslide in north-central Idaho, and the final piece of an interchange construction plan in eastern Idaho that significantly cut serious crashes — won regional awards June 28 in Juneau, Alaska.

Regional winners in the America’s Transportation Awards were announced during the annual conference of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (WASHTO). Idaho was one of only two western states to receive multiple awards; Colorado was the other. WASHTO is the western regional arm of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

“The America’s Transportation Awards give state DOTs recognition for providing the essential connections that keep people, goods and our economy moving forward,” said David Bernhardt, AASHTO president.

The two ITD awards are listed below:

Elk City Slide Cleanup – winner in “Operational Excellence, Small Project”

The 2016 Elk City landslide unleashed 47 million lbs. of mud, rock and debris on Idaho State Highway 14, cut off access to a remote town and threatened grocery and gas deliveries, health-care visits, emergency services, and the livelihood of those who rely on the highway for transport.

ITD employees from all over the state swarmed to the site to respond. Many employees took leave of their typical job assignments to assist in the efforts. The cleanup took about six months, and cost close to $3.5 million.

The original slide dumped material across a 500-foot-wide stretch of highway. Two months later, a second slide brought down more material and pushed what was already loose debris even closer to the highway. Combined, the slides spilled 235,000 cubic yards of debris on the road and left a boulder weighing about 2.4 million lbs. on the hillside that ITD reduced with two dynamite charges.

“The entire team of worked safely and efficiently, with the people of Elk City in mind every step of the way,” said ITD District 2 Engineering Manager Doral Hoff.

Thornton Interchange – winner in “Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Small Project”
The opening of the new Thornton Interchange in eastern Idaho south of Rexburg marked the culmination of more than a decade of U.S. 20 safety improvements. Thornton was the last of seven new interchanges built in a 34-mile stretch of U.S. 20 between Idaho Falls and Sugar City to improve access management and traffic flow for greater highway safety and mobility.

Despite traffic volumes doubling, these improvements drastically decreased serious-injury crashes and fatalities. In addition, several money-saving innovations and technological advances shaved at least $450,000 off the final price tag for the Thornton project.

“Providing the contractor with a 3-D model for the Thornton Interchange and requiring them to use automated grade control during construction shortened the required construction time and reduced the impact to traffic through the busiest part of the summer,” said ITD District 6 Engineering Manager Wade Allen.

Gonzalez takes reins as new Idaho DMV Administrator July 2

Alberto Gonzalez, the current DMV Modernization Manager, has been selected as the new Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Administrator. His first day will be July 2.

Gonzalez takes over a division of more than 200 people. DMV operates a broad spectrum of services throughout Idaho from headquarters and county staff, as well as Ports of Entry and Motor Vehicle Investigators.

Gonzalez takes over for Alan Frew, who has been DMV Administrator since 2006 but will be retiring July 1.

“I am excited to follow Alan Frew. One of his greatest strengths was the investment in the lives of his employees, and that’s something I want to build on,” said Gonzalez. “Alan also was a champion of great customer service — another legacy we will continue and grow.”

“We had several extremely qualified internal applicants for this position – which speaks to the level of talented individuals we have at ITD,” said Chief Deputy Director Scott Stokes. “We chose Alberto because of his experience in managing operations, developing winning teams, his ability to understand policy and processes that increase customer service and productivity.”

A veteran of managing people and programs, his service includes a great balance in both the public and private sector.  He has 13 years in the private sector and 10 in public service.

Gonzalez said one of the biggest opportunities is further strengthening DMV’s relationship with the counties.

“We need to strengthen the support we provide the counties, including better communication, training, process improvements, system reliability and really build trust with the county offices,” said Gonzalez. “They’re the face of DMV, that’s the relationship we need to improve the most. We need to make it a more unified standard statewide operation – consistent across the state including headquarters.”

Gonzalez will continue to build upon the DMV reorganization that started last year. He said DMV has an opportunity to develop an even more highly skilled work force that can lend customer’s assistance and expertise across the spectrum of business.

“Much of the change that has occurred over the past year is a direct reflection of DMV employee’s ideas and innovations, and their continued engagement is essential as we move the organization forward,” Gonzalez said. “I look forward to working with the DMV employees and learning from them. We have an opportunity to truly be the model government organization that the public and other government agencies look up to, depend on and trust.”

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.

Celebrating essential partnership with birds, bees and bugs


Although the third week in June is recognized as Idaho Pollinator Week, the essential partnership between birds, bugs and birds and agriculture and government agencies is celebrated year-round. ITD continually promotes awareness of pollinators and pollinator habitats.

Taking a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations, Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration of the valuable services to our ecosystem provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and beetles.

Pollinator species such as birds and insects are increasingly recognized as essential partners of farmers and ranchers in producing much of our food supply. Because Idaho is so agriculturally dependent, that partnership is especially important in the Gem State.

ITD is involved in several activities that promote pollinators/pollinator habitats, most notably the Operation Wildflower Program, where districts distribute native forbs to volunteer groups to seed along selected roadsides, rights of way, or slopes.