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/.

Black Cat Road closed at Chinden, July-August 2020

Intersection of Black Cat and Chinden with stop sign

Black Cat Road Closure MapBlack Cat Road will close beginning July 6 to all traffic between Larry Lane and Chinden Boulevard (US 20/26) and to through traffic between McMillan Road and Chinden, as crews make improvements to the Chinden/Black Cat intersection as part of the ChindenWest project.

Work is scheduled to occur during the day and be complete in early August. Crews will be working in the area prior to the closure relocating utilities. Although not expected, night work is allowable.

When complete, Black Cat will have a dedicated left-turn lane to Chinden and a center turn lane that connects to the existing three-lane configuration south of Larry Lane.Black Cat, Chinden Intersection design

Traffic will be detoured via Chinden and McMillan to McDermott Road and Ten Mile Road.

Project Overview

Construction is ongoing in segments of Chinden between Eagle Road and Star Road. Specifically, paving operations to widen the highway to two-lanes in each direction is underway between Linder Road and State Highway 16, and turning movements are restricted between Locust Grove Road and Eagle as crews prepare this segment for widening. Most work is scheduled for completion in late fall 2020.

The corridor, dubbed ChindenWest, is a vital east-west corridor 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.

Idaho Goes Hands-Free July 1

A driver heads down I-84 in Meridian with both hands on the wheel.
On July 1, 2020 drivers in Idaho will no longer be able to use handheld electronic devices while driving.

Idaho is about to become the latest state to have a hands-free driving law on the books. Earlier this year the Idaho legislature passed House Bill 614 banning the use of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. The new law takes effect on July 1.

Distracted driving is a contributing factor in about one out of every five crashes in Idaho. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 241 people killed in distracted driving crashes across the state with hundreds more seriously injured.

While most of us choose to drive engaged by putting away distractions and focusing on the road – the new law may be a timely reminder for others to drive well.

Here are some answers to questions you might have about Idaho’s newest traffic safety law:

We already have a distracted driving law, so how is this new law different?

In 2012, the legislature passed a law that prohibited texting — this statute will be repealed once the new law becomes effective. The old law focused on the act of texting and driving and did not provide provisions for other uses of phones like using social media, watching or capturing videos, or playing video games. The new law accounts for many of the additional ways we use electronic devices.

Another notable change in the law is its definition of operating a motor vehicle. For the former texting and driving law to be enforced, it required the driver to be texting while driving a vehicle in motion. The new law applies when you drive or have physical control of a motor vehicle in a travel lane on a public roadway – even if you are temporarily stopped at a stop sign or a traffic signal. Keep in mind, if you are parked out of the travel lane, you can use your phone.

Under the new law, use of a handheld electronic device becomes a moving violation and carries a progressive fine for multiple violations within a three year period.

My city already has a hands-free ordinance, do I need to keep that in mind?

Once the law takes effect, it will preempt all local ordinances in relation to hands-free driving. In other words, the expectation statewide is that we put our phones away while we drive.

Will drivers get a chance to get used to the new law? 

One of the provisions of the new law is that people won’t receive citations for violations in the first six months in order to educate the public about the new law. But just because law enforcement officers aren’t issuing citations doesn’t mean they aren’t enforcing the law. You can still be stopped by officers is they see you driving with a handheld device.

There are a lot of other distractions, so why are we only focusing on the phone?

Distracted driving happens when you participate in any activity that takes your attention away from the act of driving. Anyone who drives can tell attest to the fact that there is a nearly endless list of possible distractions.

No matter the distraction, it falls into one of three categories: manual, visual, or cognitive. When you use a phone or other handheld electronic device you are participating in all three types of distractions at once. Putting the phone away eliminates two of these three types of distractions and put you in a position to be better prepared to anticipate and react to the road.

Construction of upgraded I-84 interchange at Northside Boulevard proceeds this weekend

Northside Detoure Route

Following the completion of the median lanes for Interstate 84 in Nampa, crews will finish the removal the old Northside Boulevard Interchange structure this weekend.

The interchange is being upgraded to a Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI). This design is safer and more efficient than the traditional diamond interchange design and has been successful across the Treasure Valley at Ten Mile Rd., Meridian Rd., and Vista Ave. A notable difference with the Northside SPUI is that the on and off ramps will meet beneath the Interstate instead of above them.

Graphic rendering of new SPUI interchange
Graphic rendering of the new Northside SPUI

This work will require several impacts in the short-term.

Overnight Friday, June 19 and Saturday, June 20, Northside Blvd. will be closed between the Interstate ramps while crews demolish the remainder of the old bridge structure. I-84 will be reduced to one lane of travel in each direction. Those impacts will be in place from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Northside traffic will use a marked detour route (click for a detour map).

Beginning next week, crews will excavate the embankments of the old bridge to create additional room to shift Northside traffic. In July, Northside traffic will shift to temporary pavement on the west, allowing construction of the new features to the east. This is expected to take several months to complete.

When improvements are complete on the east side, traffic will be shifted to the new travel lanes and crews will begin constructing the new features on the west side of the interchange.

Throughout the reconstruction, two lanes in each direction will be maintained on Northside during the day. ITD anticipates nightly closures of a lane in each direction on Northside between Shannon Drive and Karcher Road.

Aerial graphic of new Northside SPUI

The upgraded SPUI will feature additional safety and capacity for vehicles. It will include new bicycle lanes and sidewalks on Northside. The eastbound on-ramp and westbound off-ramp will be a gentler grade, allowing vehicles to more-easily get up to highway speed when entering or slow down when exiting.

For more information about I-84 improvements in Canyon County, visit ITDprojects.org/84corridor.

Southbound Eagle Road right turn lane from Eastbound Chinden closed during construction

Construction near the intersection of Chinden and Eagle Road

The dedicated right turn lane to Eagle Road from eastbound Chinden is closed during construction. Drivers are able to turn right to southbound Eagle Road from the thru lane.

This lane configuration will allow crews to construct new roadway on the south side of Chinden. Commuters should expect increased delays and use alternate routes when possible.

Additionally, Locust Grove at its intersection with Chinden will be closed the night of Friday, May 29th. Traffic will be detoured on McMillan Road to Meridian and Eagle roads.

For information specific to this one-mile section please visit https://itdprojects.org/chindenwestlocusttoeagle/