How Idaho drivers prepare for winter, even first timers

A sign welcomes drivers to Idaho on Lookout Pass on I-90.

“You should change the speed limit signs when it’s snowing so we know what’s safe.”

That’s what one driver told an officer after she was pulled over on a winter night for going 70 mph on the freeway in black ice conditions.

If you’re not used to driving in the winter, this might seem like a good idea. But in truth, safety is the responsibility of every driver, regardless of the weather. And being prepared for winter driving requires a combination of experience and education.

In Coeur d’Alene, the police department remembers that night as one spent driving from crash scene to crash scene, checking for injuries without even the time to prepare crash reports.

“It seemed like every 100 yards there would be another crash,” said Nick Knoll, an officer on the traffic team at CDA PD.

Since experience only comes with time, many local police departments focus on educational programs to help new winter drivers. Knoll has been with the department since 2002, and since 2016, he has taught winter driving classes for those either looking for a refresher course or an introduction into North Idaho winters.

His class can be summarized in four main points, all of which provide great advice for new winter drivers:

  • Don’t drive during storms if you don’t have to – ask yourself if that trip to the store can wait.
  • Pay attention – winter driving conditions can be unforgiving of even the smallest mistakes.
  • Practice – just like you did in high school, find an empty parking lot and practice.
  • Prepare your vehicle – snow tires are strongly recommended.

“We teach drivers to drive what is safe for their abilities and their vehicles,” Knoll said.

More than 2,000 drivers have taken the course, a two-hour event offered October through November.

“We get about 65 drivers each class,” Knoll said. “Our audience varies in terms of age and gender, but each time roughly 90 percent of the class is about to experience winter driving for the first time.”

According to Knoll, people who take the class are most surprised by the difference snow tires can make. Officers play this video to show the difference, and this year Les Schwab donated ice scrapers to all participants, raffled off two emergency car kits and offered a 10 percent discount on snow tires.

“We get a lot of engagement after class, and drivers tell us we make winter seem less daunting,” Knoll said.

The classes in Coeur d’Alene are free, with multiple sessions held each fall in the evenings and on weekends. Next year call the Coeur d’Alene Police Department at (208) 769-2320 to sign up, or if you would like to teach a similar course, contact Knoll for more information.

Until then, drive for conditions, stay engaged and check the newly improved 511.idaho.gov so you know before you go.

Knoll (far right) with fellow officer recognizing a sober driver.

ITD to hold open house for I-90/ID-41 interchange redesign on Nov. 20

Aerial view of the current I-90/ID-41 interchange.

The Idaho Transportation Department invites the public to view and give comment on the selected design of the Interstate 90 and Idaho Highway 41 interchange at an open house next Wednesday, November 20.

Members of the public may arrive at any time between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel in Post Falls.

Since the last public meeting in November 2018, ITD has coordinated with the city of Post Falls and other stakeholders to select the preferred design to improve safety and mobility. The latest plans feature an offset single-point urban interchange (SPUI).

View proposed plans for the interchange.

Earlier this year another project originally planned for 2025 to address similar concerns on ID-41 between Seltice and Mullan avenues was combined with this 2023 project. Additional lanes will be added at the Mullan Avenue intersection, and a raised curbed median will limit left turns from side streets onto the highway.

ITD will also ask the public to share concerns about construction of this $39-million project.

Those unable to attend may visit the project website to learn more and to comment. Comments will be accepted from November 20 to December 4.

 

US-95 reconstruction in Bonners Ferry nearly complete

Picture of the freshly reconstructed highway

Weather permitting, highway construction in Bonners Ferry is expected to end before Thanksgiving.

Minor work on sidewalks and landscaping will continue through the month but highway traffic will not be stopped.

Over the last two years, the highway has been rebuilt from Kootenai River Bridge to Alderson Lane with a continuous center turn lane through town and pedestrian facilities on both sides.

A second phase of construction between Alderson Lane and Labrosse Hill Street is scheduled for 2023 and 2024 and will extend a similar design to better serve mobility and safety in the area.

Eastbound I-90 closed at Lookout Pass; drivers to seek alternate routes to avoid Montana closure

The Idaho Transportation Department has closed Interstate 90 in the eastbound direction at Lookout Pass to allow drivers to turn around and avoid a closure on I-90 in Montana.

Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) closed I-90 at milepost 26 near St. Regis following a semi crash resulting in a hazmat spill early this morning (Wednesday, Oct. 16). One westbound lane is open, but both eastbound lanes are closed. At this time it is not clear when the route will reopen but an extended closure is possible.

Drivers are advised to use US-2 or Idaho Highway 200 to cross into Montana. For travel conditions on Idaho routes, visit 511.idaho.gov. For travel conditions on Montana routes, visit roadreport.mdt.mt.gov.

ITD is in contact with MDT to open the route as quickly and as safely as possible.

Bridge repairs at Blue Creek Bay on Interstate 90 to pause for winter

All lanes of Interstate 90 over Blue Creek Bay will reopen in November for the upcoming winter season. The speed limit will revert back to 65 mph, but drivers should expect a rougher traveling surface until repairs to both bridges are complete.

Underwater work will continue until the lake drops to freezing temperatures, and crews will return in early spring next year to finish repairs. ITD anticipates project completion in summer 2020.

“When work concludes for this season, we’ll be around 90 percent done,” said Ryan Hawkins, resident engineer for ITD.

Since work began in spring 2018, crews have focused on the supporting structures underneath and replacing the upper portion of the concrete decks with new concrete. Construction challenges have hindered progress on the bridges, requiring a third season of work that was not originally planned.

“Although we are close to being done, it’s more important to do it right and wait for better weather conditions,” Hawkins said. “It’s a good investment—after we’re done, the bridges will last another fifty years.”

Next year, permanent joints to allow portions of the bridge to safely expand and contract with the weather will be completed, and the final driving surface will be put down.

Record Steel & Construction, Inc. is the primary contractor on this $10.9-million project.

Idaho Highway 97 closed at milepost 76.9 in October for slide repairs

Slide damage at ID-97 at milepost 76.9 from April 2017.

Starting Wednesday, October 9, traffic will be detoured around a closure on Idaho Highway 97 nine miles north of Harrison as contractors repair damage from a March 2017 slide.

The detour will last for three weeks, with drivers directed to Asbury Road and Half Round Bay Road as alternate routes.

Work includes excavating underneath the highway at milepost 76.9 and adding material to support the slope before replacing the pavement.

Repairs are partially weather-dependent, so drivers are advised to check 511.idaho.gov for the latest impacts.

Drilling at Interstate 90 and Idaho Highway 41 interchange planned through October

Drill crews set up on I-90 near ID-41 interchange in Post Falls.

Drill crews will gather soil samples near the junction of I-90 and ID-41 in Post Falls through the month of October to gather data for the interchange’s redesign.

Sample collection will affect drivers next week (Sept. 30) as crews start working nights.

Nighttime work between 7:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. will require single-lane closures on the highway and Seltice Avenue for one week. Drills will then move to the interstate, with one to three weeks of nighttime, single-lane closures possible.

No work will take place on weekends, and on- and off-ramps will remain at least partially open.

The interchange is planned to start construction in 2023, with another opportunity for public comment scheduled for this winter. To learn more about the new design for the interchange, visit itdprojects.org/id41corridor.

Repairs to the Rock Creek slide on US-95 to begin next week

Barrels and guardrail separate traffic on US-95 from the Rock Creek slide.

Final repairs will begin next week to US-95 near Rock Creek north of Bonners Ferry to address the failing slope, depending on weather and the completion of the contractor’s other slide repairs at milepost 498 near Naples.

Work will last through mid-October and will involve excavating material and installing drains to stabilize the area. A temporary signal will control traffic through the single-lane work zone.

Since the area first slid in April 2017, it has experienced additional rock fall, further undermining the pavement. Maintenance crews provided barriers and signage near the slide while the final fix was designed. To identify why the hillside continued to move and to what extent, ITD authorized a geotechnical investigation and monitored the movement.

To learn more about how ITD responds to slides, visit itdprojects.org/us95rockcreek.

Path construction underway between Garwood and Athol

Work has started to further connect Garwood and Athol by building nine miles of a paved shared use path along the east side of US-95 to tie into existing facilities.

Construction will last until late October with minimal impacts to drivers. A shoulder or lane closure on US-95 near Garwood in late September might be necessary for guardrail work along the highway.

The new path is planned to be 12 feet wide and will allow bicyclists and pedestrians to reach Farragut State Park and Silverwood from Coeur d’Alene.

Other project features include flashing beacons and raised concrete refuge islands at crossings near Abbott Road interchange, Bunco Road interchange, Parks Road and Idaho Highway 54.

A small portion of the path near Garwood will not be built until the new overpass is constructed in 2020/2021. Until that section is built, pedestrians and cyclists are encouraged to use Pope Road to access the next section.

For more information, visit itdprojects.org/us95garwoodpath.

Signal at US-95 and Idaho Highway 53 scheduled for nighttime removal starting Monday

Aerial shot of US-95 and ID-53 north of CDA

The signal at US-95 and ID-53 is planned for removal starting Monday, August 26 to allow construction of a new interchange at that location to improve traffic flow between Garwood and Sagle.

View a video of the design for the US-95, ID-53 interchange. 

The removal process will take approximately three nights, during which US-95 will be reduced to one lane in each direction from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Idaho Highway 53 will also be closed to the west of the intersection as crews replace the bridge over the railroad and realign the highway to tie into the new interchange.

Starting Monday night, traffic will be detoured around the ID-53 closure via Old US-95 to Garwood Road to access US-95. This closure is expected to last until fall 2020 when the new railroad bridge and interchange open to traffic.

Government Way will continue to be closed at the US-95 intersection.

This project is part of a larger vision to maximize mobility on US-95 between Garwood Road and Sagle. Since construction began in July, a temporary signal has been installed at ID-53 and Ramsey Road to accommodate the change in traffic patterns, and ID-53 has been widened.

In 2020 and 2021, frontage roads and an overpass at Garwood Road will be constructed as part of this project. Total improvements, though not all awarded to contractors, are funded primarily with an estimated $41 million from the GARVEE program and another $13.9 million in federal aid.

Email updates are available at itdprojects.org/us95id53.