It’s time to be Idaho Ready for winter driving

As winter weather arrives in Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department has launched its annual winter safety campaign, “Idaho Ready.”

The campaign aims to help drivers prepare for challenging conditions on the state’s highways, offering tips and resources to stay safe before drivers hit the road. Short videos, blog posts, and photos will be posted weekly to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online at itd.idaho.gov/travel.

So, are you Idaho Ready for winter driving? Here are a few tips to help you stay safe on the road.

First, check road conditions before you leave! Visit 511.idaho.gov or download the Idaho 511 app to look at weather reports and cameras across the state.

Be prepared. Keep an emergency kit with food, water, and a blanket in your car.

If roads are wet or icy, slow down and give yourself plenty of stopping room.

Pay attention to the outside temperature. When it’s near freezing, ice can form quickly, and when gaining elevation, wet roads can change to ice in just a few miles. Even when the temperature is above freezing, shaded roadways can be slick. Take it easy on overpasses and bridges too. These are the first to freeze when temperatures drop.

Snow tires and chains can help keep you moving, but be sure to practice installing your chains so you know how to use them.

When roads are slick, turn your cruise control off. If you start to slide, regain control by taking your foot off the gas and slowly turning your wheel in the direction of the skid. Try not to overcorrect, and do not slam on the brakes.

If you encounter a snow plow, slow down and make room. The safest place is behind the plow. Never pass on the right.

Please wear your seatbelt, stay engaged, and drive for the conditions. Be sure to follow along online with ITD this winter so you are always Idaho Ready.

Idaho DMV issues extension on expiring registrations and driver’s licenses

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Motor Vehicles is providing an extension on expiring vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses. In an effort to reduce wait times at county DMV offices, non-commercial vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses that expire between September and December 2020, now have until January 31, 2021 to renew.

In mid-October ITD implemented the fourth and largest phase of the state’s DMV modernization project, moving the vehicle registration and titling system from a 1980s mainframe to an updated computer program. Eight million records were integrated into a “one person, one record” system, linking each Idahoan’s registration and title information with their license.

The new system has temporarily slowed vehicle registration and title processing, and ITD is working diligently to speed up transaction times. COVID-19 social distancing measures with limited hours and appointment times also contribute to a backlog in service. The extensions will allow customers more time to safely complete their business. ITD is doing everything possible to reduce wait times, especially as temperatures drop this fall and winter.

“People with expiring registrations and licenses don’t need to rush to the DMV. These extensions should give them some relief, help reduce crowd sizes, and also open up appointment windows where available at county offices,” said DMV Administrator Alberto Gonzalez. “We also encourage Idahoans to renew their registration online, by mail, or drop boxes at county offices.”

DMV online services, including driver’s license and registration renewal, are available 24/7 at dmv.idaho.gov. Please note, county DMV office hours are determined by county sheriffs and assessors, and vary statewide. Hours and contact information can be found at dmv.idaho.gov.

Idaho DMV update on vehicle registration and titling system

The Idaho Division of Motor Vehicles team is working all hours to refine the state’s new vehicle registration and titling computer system. Customers at county DMV offices are currently experiencing extended wait times. Please remember, many DMV services are available ONLINE at dmv.idaho.gov. We encourage you to skip the line and renew online 24/7.

In an effort to reduce wait times, the Idaho Transportation Department is providing an extension on expiring vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses. Non-commercial vehicle registrations and driver’s licenses that expire between September and December 2020 now have until January 31, 2021 to renew.

During the Columbus Day weekend (Oct. 10-12), the Idaho DMV transitioned the state’s vehicle registration and titling system from a 1980s mainframe to the new GEM system. Eight million DMV records were integrated into a “one person, one record” system. This means each Idaho driver will have one record with both their driver’s license and vehicle registration/title information linked.

“We apologize for any longer than normal wait times at your county DMV office,” said DMV Administrator Alberto Gonzalez. “Upgrading from a 40-year-old computer system is a big project, and merging millions of records is a challenging process. The GEM system is not yet perfect, as we continue to clean years of data, but it is improving every day.”

The Idaho DMV asks customers to please have patience with county staff until the system is operating more smoothly. For more information and resources visit dmv.idaho.gov.

Reminder: Drive Insured! Insure your vehicle or lose your registration

Drive Insured! Be safe, be smart! Insure your vehicle or lose your registration.

A reminder to Idaho vehicle owners, drive insured or lose your registration.

Under Idaho law, vehicle owners without insurance coverage for two consecutive months risk having their registration suspended by the Idaho Division of Motor Vehicles.

The Drive Insured law (Idaho Code 49-1234) was passed during the 2019 Idaho legislative session, and went into effect in January 2020. As part of the DMV’s efforts to help Idahoans through the unprecedented COVID-19 emergency, implementation was initially delayed.

The DMV receives data from licensed Idaho insurance companies identifying vehicles with coverage. Owners without coverage for two consecutive months will receive a warning letter, then have 30 days to provide proof of insurance or obtain an exemption before their registration is suspended.

To reinstate a suspended registration, owners will need to provide proof of insurance and pay a fee of $75.

Impacted drivers should expect warning letters in the mail this October, though at any time, the DMV encourages Idahoans to use the Drive Insured self-reporting tool at driveinsured.itd.idaho.gov. This tool allows drivers to verify the DMV has a record of their insurance, report a change in their insurance situation, or file an exemption. While insurance companies are required by law to provide this data, some fail to do so and it may result in a vehicle incorrectly identified as not having insurance. Using the self-reporting tool is a simple step that can give drivers peace of mind if they are concerned the DMV is not up to date on their current situation.

Please note, county DMV offices are not involved with Drive Insured, and affected vehicle owners cannot report their insurance in-person there. Please use the Idaho DMV’s online self-reporting tool, or call 208.334.8075.

Some vehicles are exempt from this statute. The law applies only to non-commercial vehicles, and excludes trailers and off-highway vehicles. For a full list of frequently asked questions, visit dmv.idaho.gov and click the Drive Insured heading.

Report shows significant reduction in human-caused fires along I-84 even as traffic increases

BLM crews conduct a prescribed burn along ID-51

As historic catastrophic wildfires ravage the coastal states, a new report from the Bureau of Land Management is showing positive results of a fuel reduction program along Interstate 84 in southwest Idaho, a partnership between BLM and the Idaho Transportation Department.

ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County
ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County

The fuel reduction program began in 2013. Since that time, fires along the interstate have decreased in size by 95%. During that same time, the amount of traffic has increased by 30%. You can read the report on BLM’s website here.

The program involved BLM identifying critical areas for vegetation growth alongside I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home. Working with ITD maintenance crews, these areas are treated with various methods. In some locations, additional gravel is placed beside the shoulder to lengthen the distance between fuels and potential fire starts from vehicles. ITD maintenance crews will mow alongside highways to reduce available fuel. In some instances, BLM crews will conduct controlled burns to eliminate built-up vegetation. The video below captures this work.

“The partnership with BLM has been very good for the traveling public,” said Carl Vaughn, ITD foreman out of Mountain Home. “We’ve seen few fires along I-84, which means fewer road closures. We’ve knocked down barriers between the federal agency and our own to the benefit of the people we’re here to serve.”

You can do your part to prevent human caused wildfires along the roadway. Before you leave on your next trip, check beneath your vehicle and make sure nothing is dragging close to the ground. If towing, ensure safety chains are not dragging. Don’t park your vehicle in tall or dry grass, where contact with a hot part can cause a fire start. For more safety tips, visit idahofireinfo.com.

Blasting and road closures begin on ID-55 Smiths Ferry project

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) starts the blasting portion of the Idaho Highway 55 Smiths Ferry project Monday, September 21.

Drivers can anticipate the fall road closure schedule of Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to begin Monday. If motorists need to travel during this time frame, they are encouraged to plan around this schedule or use US-95. These closures will continue through mid-November when construction will pause for the winter months.

Crews will work during the closures to safely blast and remove rock from the canyon to widen the roadway between Smiths Ferry and the Rainbow Bridge. Large equipment, including steel containers and temporary barrier to prevent falling rock from entering the travel lane, and protect the crews working next to traffic in the narrow work zone, will fill one lane. As a result, drivers can expect one-way, alternating traffic when blasts are not being conducted. Motorists can find additional details on ITD’s project website.

“For the safety of our crews and travelers, please plan for the road to be closed every Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until this winter when construction will pause,” Vince Trimboli, ITD Communications Manager said. “We appreciate the public’s patience during the project as we make these much needed safety improvements.”

As a reminder, seasonal closures and traffic patterns will be as follows:

  • Fall (September – November): One-way alternating traffic; daytime and nighttime work, seven days a week; full road closures Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Winter (December – Mid-March): No construction expected; all lanes open
  • Spring (Mid-March – Mid-May): One-way alternating traffic; daytime and nighttime work, seven days a week; full road closures Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Summer (Mid-May – August): One-way alternating traffic; daytime and nighttime work, Monday – Friday

The project is expected to be completed by late fall 2022. Motorists are encouraged to sign up for text and email alerts to get the most up-to-date information on the project.

In the event of an emergency, ITD and emergency service providers have a system in place to allow vehicles through the work zone so they can transport patients or respond to other emergencies in a safe, timely manner.

Additional lanes on ChindenWest Corridor complete from Idaho 16 to Linder Road, work to the east progresses

ChindenWest looking west with completed roadway

The Idaho Transportation Department has opened four lanes of Chinden Boulevard from Idaho Highway 16 to Linder Road to traffic, marking a major milestone in the ChindenWest Corridor project.

The widening of this section of Chinden Boulevard from two lanes to four began this spring. It will ensure the safety and mobility of the traveling public ahead of new development in the area. The new roadway includes four 12-foot travel lanes, two in each direction, and a detached 10-foot pathway to the south for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Credit for this project’s success goes to the great partnership of everyone involved,” said Jayme Coonce, Engineering Manager for ITD District 3. “To reach this milestone, we needed the hard work and support from the City of Meridian, the developer, the Ada County Highway District, and our contractor, Idaho Materials and Construction.”

As this three mile section reopens to typical highway conditions, Locust Grove to Eagle Road prepares for a significant traffic shift, beginning Sept. 21, that will eliminate one through lane, both east and westbound, at the Eagle intersection (see graphic below).

Graphic of new traffic patter from Locust Grove to Eagle Road

“At the east end of the ChindenWest corridor, paving operations will be occurring between Locust Grove and Eagle Road,” said Michael Lucas, ITD’s project manager for this section. “The necessary lane shift may result in increased congestion during peak drive times. We encourage motorists to consider alternate routes when possible and appreciate everyone’s patience.”

The two-mile segment between Linder Road and Locust Grove Road is underway with the most significant construction activities scheduled for 2021.

The ChindenWest Corridor is a vital east-west connection in the heart of the Treasure Valley. The construction will add travel lanes, widen shoulders, and build a separated path parallel to the roadway.

The project website, ITDprojects.org/ChindenWest, serves as a hub of information for the public, including videos that provide a window into the future. The one-stop-shop website includes detailed information about construction activities, anticipated traffic impacts, and the improvement designs.

Schedule of construction on ChindenWest Corridor

ITD updates Traffic Tracker tool to show historical data

before and after photo of the traffic tracker tool

The Idaho Transportation Department is updating its popular Traffic Tracker tool to provide traffic counts for the previous five years, expanding the available information and providing better context to those making use of the data.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE UPDATED TRAFFIC TRACKER TOOL

The Traffic Tracker was launched in March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit Idaho. It was designed to track the acute, day-to-day changes in traffic patterns across the state. This information was helpful to businesses, healthcare providers, and emergency managers in understanding the impacts of lockdown. As time went by, trends emerged and the detailed data became unwieldy and unhelpful.

The update, launched Monday Aug. 3, draws from the same automatic traffic recorders as the original tool. Now, however, the data is averaged to monthly counts and plotted alongside the previous five years of data.

“We have been tracking this data for years now,” said Margaret Pridmore, ITD Roadway Data Manager. “This is information we’ve been gathering into reports for ITD executives and the Governor’s Office. With the innovation of the original traffic tracker interface, we’re now able to make this data readily available to the general public. It’s a great step in increasing transparency and providing helpful information to the people we serve.”

With a monthly comparison year over year, the information puts into context the broader impact of the pandemic on travel across Idaho. There has been a steady increase in traffic the last five years due to the exceptional growth of the state and a booming economy. Those numbers took a nose dive in March and April, quickly rebounding in May. Currently, average travel volumes are still slightly lower than previous years, but the trend is increasing – and there are some notable exceptions.

“We’re seeing record travel to remote areas of the state, such as the Central Mountains,” said Pridmore. “Boise County in particular is seeing more vehicles on Idaho Highways 55 and 21. It is a sign of people getting out of denser population centers during the pandemic.”

The monthly traffic reports are generally completed by the second week of a month. Compared to the previous day-to-day data of the original Traffic Tracker tool, these numbers will be quality checked before publishing.

ITD to make repairs to I-84 bridge over 10th Ave in Caldwell week of Aug. 2

Closure Map for I-84 and 10th Ave

Starting the evening of Aug. 2, ITD maintenance crews will make repairs to the Interstate 84 bridge over 10th Ave in Caldwell to extend the life of the structure and provide a smoother driving surface.

Given the high volume of traffic on this section of I-84, work will only be done from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. when traffic is at its lowest. A single lane of I-84 will be closed each night. Speed limits will be reduced. Repairs will first be made on the eastbound lanes, then the westbound lanes. Crews plan to finish repairs on one lane each night.

The graphic above describes the anticipated closure areas and which nights repairs will be made on the specific lanes.

Several potholes have formed on the pavement before and after the bridge deck, which maintenance crews filled with temporary patches. For the upcoming repairs, crews will chisel out these patches and place a smoother overlay of an epoxy material the length of the damaged area.

“This is a pretty extensive repair,” said Joe Hunter, ITD maintenance operator in Caldwell managing the project. “The patches work, but it’s a rough surface right now. When we’re done, things will be much smoother and the bridge will remain in acceptable condition.”

In addition to the single lane closures, area residents and businesses can anticipate increased noise and vibration from equipment.

ITD recently completed a long-range environmental evaluation of I-84 from Franklin Rd. to Centennial Way for additional lanes. The current proposal includes adding to the existing bridge structure to accommodate an additional eastbound and westbound lane. There is currently no funding available to construct those improvements. For more information about the environmental project, visit ITDprojects.org/i-84-caldwell-to-karcher.

Crews successfully slide new I-84 bridge into place

demolition of the blacks creek bridge begins

Normally, bridges moving is not something an engineer wants to see, but this weekend construction crews slid the first of two new bridges at the Interstate 84 Blacks Creek Interchange sixty feet into place — where it will stay for decades to come.

The slide-in-place maneuver was designed to minimize impacts to the heavily traveled Interstate. Crews construct the bulk of the new bridge right next to the existing structure. When ready, the old bridge is demolished and the replacement structure is slid into place.

“The driving force behind choosing a lateral bridge slide method was our focus on the people we serve and their ability to get where they need to go.” said Patrick Kelly, the ITD project manager overseeing the work. “We were able to keep lanes open during the entire bridge construction process. Once it was ready, we closed the eastbound lanes, demolished the old structure, pushed the new bridge into place, and are wrapping up construction on the adjacent roadway. In the end, we will have closed interstate lanes of traffic for weeks rather than months.”

The whole process, from demolition to reopening traffic, will take two to three weeks. Normal bridge replacements can take several months. With the new bridge in place, crews have just a few final items to complete, including work at the bridge abutments and repaving approaches.

To get the bridge from temporary footings to its permanent home, crews lay down Teflon pads and cover them with dish soap. Then, heavy machinery pushes and pulls the structure into place. It’s a surprisingly effective way to reduce friction and easily move the massive structure.

“Seeing how smoothly the bridge slid into place was very satisfying.” said Kelly. “It has been months of planning, preparation, and a lot of hard work to get to this point. The crews from Knife River have done a wonderful job and should be very proud of the work they’ve done.”

This method has been used before in the Gem State when, in 2014, the Lardo Bridge on ID-55 in McCall was replaced. There, as it is at Blacks Creek, the highway is an essential connection and lengthy disruptions are very impactful.

The second bridge for the westbound lanes has been constructed next to the old structure. Crews are currently finishing up the eastbound side of the interchange, including work on ramps and Blacks Creek Road. They will be ready to slide the westbound bridge into place in early August using the same method.

For more information about the project, visit ITDprojects.org/i-84-blacks-creek-interchange/.