Law enforcement agencies unite to honor Jacob Leeder this holiday season

Every holiday season, law enforcement agencies place extra officers on the roads to patrol communities to prevent impaired driving. This year, six agencies in Kootenai County have joined forces in memory of Jacob Leeder.

Jacob Leeder was the son of Sergeant Tim Leeder with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. He died last December after the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a drunk driver.

To honor him, officers from Spirit Lake PD, Coeur d’Alene PD, Post Falls PD, Rathdrum PD, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho State Police will conduct emphasis patrols through the holidays, with the first set for November 21-24.

Other emphasis patrols will take place Dec. 21-22 and Dec. 29-31. Officers on most emphasis patrols will be able to partner with county prosecutors to apply for evidentiary blood draw warrants for impaired drivers who refuse to cooperate with breath tests.

Local law enforcement agencies note that those who refuse to cooperate with breath testing tend to have a significant history of DUIs and a high blood alcohol content when tested.

For each emphasis, members of the public can follow along from home by tuning into the agencies’ social media accounts for a virtual ride along or following #choosewisely.

“Troopers, officers and deputies will be out in force and working across our normal boundaries,” Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf said. “We hope you choose wisely and find a sober driver this holiday season.”

Extra officers at Post Falls railroad crossings in October remind drivers to be safe

Recent collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and Idaho Operation Lifesaver (IOL) gave officers multiple opportunities to remind drivers to be safe at railroad crossings in Post Falls.

Known as Officer on a Train, the operation provides officers a unique opportunity to work as a team with their counterparts. IOL allows an officer to join train engineers in the engine car for one day to observe driver behavior at crossings so that he or she may radio other officers staged nearby to address unsafe or illegal actions.

As part of the last operation, officers from Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, Post Falls Police Department and Idaho State Police were able to make contact with 52 drivers. Twelve warnings and 31 citations were given, ranging from speeding to failing to yield.

Six officers in total spent 42 hours at the major crossings in Post Falls, including the Union Pacific crossing at Spokane Street that received warning lights and gates earlier this year as part of an ITD project.

IOL Director Travis Campbell said the effect of those improvements was extremely noticeable.

“Before lunch we would have as many as 75 violations at these crossings in Post Falls,” Campbell said. “That day we didn’t get nearly as many, and I believe those improvements are responsible in part for that decrease.”

Improvements at Spokane Street, as well as more at Grange Avenue in Post Falls, were funded by the federal Rail-Highway Crossing Program.

The program benefits Idaho by providing safety enhancement projects and supporting educational and law enforcement activities. For the last seven years, ITD has administered an average of $2.2 million every year from this program.

ITD seeks comment next Thursday for the redesign of the I-90/ID-41 interchange

The Idaho Transportation Department invites the public to view and comment on proposed alternatives for the redesign of the Interstate 90 and Idaho Highway 41 interchange at an open house next Thursday, November 8.

Members of the public may arrive at any time between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Post Falls Police Department.

ITD organized a value planning process to bring together multiple stakeholders—including representatives from the city of Post Falls, Kootenai County and the Federal Highway Administration—to develop and evaluate designs to improve safety and mobility at this intersection. Of the nine alternatives ultimately proposed by the team, two were selected to be presented for public comment at this meeting.

Those unable to attend may visit the project website to learn more and to comment. Comments will be accepted between November 8 and November 27.

The Crowded Commute: when will drivers get an extra lane on Interstate 90?

Photo of construction in CDA from earlier this year.

It is the question on drivers’ minds as they continue to navigate through orange barrels and divided lanes on I-90 in CDA: when will there be more than two lanes?

The short answer: not in the immediate future, primarily due to a lack of funds.

Currently, work is progressing to reconstruct and lower the interstate through town, with preparations also underway near the Huetter Port of Entry to accommodate traffic flow and bridge maintenance next spring.

Despite appearances, neither of these projects includes the addition of a third lane.

WHY NOT?

The need is there, but the funding is not.

The latest study estimates that the expansion of I-90 to a divided, six-lane roadway from state line to 15th Street in CDA could require approximately $120 million. That estimate does not include the expansion of bridges—of which there are six—easily elevating the cost another $120 million.

Even though federal funds would spare ITD the majority of bridge replacement costs and all but 7 percent of pavement costs, that is still a significant chunk of the local  ITD district’s budget, which is set at $29 million for next year and designated for pavement work only.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution: temporary shoulders and crossovers under construction have not been built to withstand prolonged truck traffic, nor have they been approved by the interstate’s owner, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), meaning they can’t stay.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

To add a third lane to the interstate, an environmental document would have to be prepared by ITD and the public before being approved by FHWA. Environmental documents, because they can serve as the baseline for planning and development in an area for decades, require significant data and outreach to complete. Depending on the impacts, submitting an environmental document to FHWA could take as many as three years.

Ideally expansion would also be coordinated with our neighbors at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to ensure drivers could expect consistent traffic conditions through the larger corridor. At this time, WSDOT officials plan to increase efficiency on the interstate with ramp meters in downtown Spokane, and eventually lane and speed control all the way to the border, since there are not adequate resources or priority within existing funding to expand the route.

As the area grows, traffic demands on the entire state highway system will increase, forcing projects to compete with each other for funding. Projects currently programmed for the next seven years include the expansion of Idaho Highway 41 between Post Falls and Rathdrum, Idaho Highway 53 between state line and Rathdrum and portions of US-95 between CDA and Sandpoint.

THE BOTTOM LINE

That doesn’t mean I-90 will stay the same for the next seven years. The department does have projects in the program to maintain overpasses, to reduce rutting and to preserve existing pavement. Larger projects scheduled include the redesign of the I-90/ID-41 interchange, and depending on the success of a submitted grant application, the relocation of the Huetter Port of Entry to the west.

In the meantime, ITD will make adjustments to the corridor where possible and continue to collect the data necessary for eventual expansion, with the next study anticipated to be completed in the coming year.

 

Traffic shift scheduled Saturday night for I-90 through CDA

Drivers who travel through the work zone on Interstate 90 in Coeur d’Alene are advised to pay extra attention as traffic impacts are scheduled to change Saturday night (Sept. 15), depending on weather conditions.

Once eastbound lanes are completed, traffic will shift from the median to the newly paved lanes. Westbound traffic will then move to the median to allow crews to reconstruct the remaining lanes.

Two lanes will stay open in each direction. Traffic impacts will be similar to those from earlier this summer: through traffic should use the left lane, and drivers who need to exit must use the right lane. Westbound lanes will be divided near the 15th Street on ramp by concrete barrier, after which drivers will not be able to change lanes.

Westbound on- and off-ramps at Fourth Street will be closed for the next month, and the westbound off-ramp at US-95 will be closed next week.

This is the final major traffic shift planned for the project, which will lower the roadway by two feet and eliminate the need for over-height trucks to be detoured around bridges on the interstate.

Work on the interstate through town began in 2017. Last year, the interstate from Sherman Avenue to Ninth Street was completed, and by the end of October crews will finish reconstructing the interstate from Ninth Street to Northwest Boulevard.

Ramps at Northwest Boulevard in CDA scheduled for closures next week

Maintenance crews will resurface Northwest Boulevard on either side of the bridge over Interstate 90 in Coeur d’Alene next week.

Work is scheduled to take place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Sept. 10 and 11.

The north side of the bridge will be resurfaced the first night, during which the westbound on- and off-ramps will be closed. The south side of the bridge will be resurfaced next, and the eastbound on- and off-ramps will be closed then.

Detours will be posted both nights.

Nighttime lane closures on I-90 begin next week

Next week travelers can expect nighttime lane closures on Interstate 90 near the Huetter rest area west of Coeur d’Alene.

Temporary lanes will be built in the median this fall to maintain traffic flow during bridge maintenance scheduled for next spring.

Work is expected to take place overnight Monday through Friday between 7:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. until mid-October.

As part of this project, crews will also preserve surfaces of bridges in Post Falls this fall that pass over the interstate. Bridges include those at Idaho Street, McGuire Road, Seltice Way and Pointe Parkway. Sealing the surface of each bridge is expected to take approximately one week, and during that time, at least one lane of traffic will remain open.

For updates on the bridges, check with Post Falls Assistant City Engineer Rob Paulus at (208) 457-3331. Other traffic impacts on the state system may be found by visiting 511.

Bridge on ID-3 in St. Maries closes next week, requiring detour through town

The Idaho Transportation Department advises drivers to plan ahead for traffic delays and detours in St. Maries on Idaho Highway 3 as crews advance to the next phase of bridge reconstruction.

Beginning as early as Tuesday, Sept. 4, crews will close the bridge over the railroad and reopen the adjacent bridge over the St. Joe River to one lane in each direction.

Temporary signs will be installed along the detour through town to enhance safety and traffic flow. Closures will continue on Meadowhurst Drive east of its intersection with ID-3 as well as Riverside Avenue where it runs underneath the highway between First Street and Fourth Street.

These traffic changes are part of the ongoing project to upgrade two bridges in St. Maries. This phase of work includes completing the east half of the river bridge deck and reconstructing the railroad bridge.

The railroad bridge is anticipated to be closed through December, and the overall project is scheduled to be complete by spring 2019.

Upon completion, both bridges will include one lane in each direction with a shoulder and sidewalk on each side. Work also includes reconstructing the highway to match the upgraded bridges, replacing guardrail and signs in several locations and improving the adjoining intersections.

Crews are working during daylight hours Monday through Saturday and Sundays as needed. Residents and businesses will continue to experience occasional noise, dust and vibration during that time.

Check 511 for traffic impacts or visit the “Projects” tab at itd.idaho.gov/d1 for more information.

Members of the public are also invited to contact the project team by calling the project hotline at 208-292-8515 or by emailing Gemma Puddy at gpuddy@langdongroupinc.com.

Safety improvements start next week west of Rathdrum on ID-53

Starting Monday, August 27, crews will begin constructing turn lanes at the intersection of Idaho Highway 53 and Chase Road west of Rathdrum.

Work will last up to one month as crews add a right-turn lane and a center-turn lane at the intersection. Crews are expected to be on site during the day from Monday through Friday, with some weekend work allowed. Travelers should expect speed reductions in the area and intermittent single lane closures.

Highway traffic in both directions will be stopped completely only when crews are removing about a dozen trees, which is necessary to construct the new right-turn lane.

For the latest traffic updates, check 511.

Drive well, North Idaho

With Labor Day right around the corner, parents and children are likely counting down the days to the end of summer, but they should consider a different number: 86.

That’s at least how many people have died on Idaho routes so far during what is called the 100 Deadliest Days, or the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day when fatalities increase statewide ever year. Of those 86 fatalities, 10 were in the northern five counties.

Law enforcement provides safety data like this to the Idaho Transportation Department to help monitor highway conditions and plan for changes when possible. North of the Latah county border, ITD pays special attention to the following high-speed and congested areas: the intersections of Prairie Avenue and US-95, Prairie Avenue and ID-53, Prairie Avenue and ID-41, Hauser Lake Road and ID-53, and Ramsey Road and ID-53.

From adding turn lanes and to constructing new interchanges, ITD has plans to address safety concerns at these locations but wants drivers to exercise awareness and caution for the rest of this summer.

Engineers can design safer highways, and officers can patrol them, but what drivers do behind the wheel can affect their safety more than anything else on the road.

Be engaged, and drive well these last two weeks, Idaho.