US-12 now open after crews cleared an avalanche and downed trees

A loader makes a path through the avalanche

Jan. 9 at 5 p.m.:

US-12 east of Kooskia is now open after crews took care of the aftermath of a storm that brought down trees, triggered an avalanche and deposited more than 2 feet of snow between Thursday and Friday night.

“At times that storm was dumping three inches of snow an hour,” ITD Operations Engineer Jared Hopkins said. “Our operators have tirelessly worked to remove an estimated 150 fallen trees and to clear one avalanche.”

The avalanche reported near milepost 136 was more than 10 feet deep and 30-40 feet wide.

“We also had to bring in heavy equipment to remove several smaller snow slides that had reached the highway and were too big to push with our plows,” Hopkins said.

ITD shut down the highway last Thursday based on avalanche risk, heavy snow and falling trees. Prior to this storm, the last avalanche to reach the highway was in 2008.

“Our avalanche specialists will monitor the corridor through the winter, but it is now safe to reopen with that storm behind us,” Hopkins said. “Drivers should be prepared for narrow lanes and patches of ice and snow as we continue to clean up.”

Operators have also reopened State Highway 64 east of Nezperce, which had been closed since Jan. 3 due to drifted snow.

Drivers should check 511 for updated information before traveling as conditions could change.

Jan. 8 at 4 P.m.:

Avalanche and downed trees extend US-12 closure for several more days

Several downed trees brought down by heavy snow
Several downed trees brought down by heavy snow

US-12 east of Kooskia will remain closed for several more days as crews clean up at least one avalanche and downed trees.

An avalanche was reported today at milepost 136 within the zone actively monitored by ITD specialists.

“Our operators are working from the east side, cutting through trees trying to access the rest of the highway, so it’s possible more avalanches may be reported,” ITD Operations Engineer Jared Hopkins said. “We are also still assessing the risk for more avalanches.”

Another release will be sent once more information is available.

Jan. 7 at 4 P.m.:

US-12 closure extended due to continued avalanche risk

Heavy snow brought down a tree
Heavy snow brought down a tree

Avalanche danger continues to close US-12 east of Kooskia while specialists monitor conditions and the forecast. The highway will remain closed through the night with another assessment conducted in the morning.

Numerous trees are also blocking the highway, and additional precipitation is expected overnight. Another release will be sent once the highway is determined safe enough to reopen.

The Idaho Transportation Department had announced a closure between Fish Creek (milepost 126) and Saddle Camp Road (milepost 139) at 2 p.m. yesterday based on high risk but heavy snow and falling trees forced an earlier closure for all of US-12 east of Kooskia at 11 a.m.

Jan. 6 at 8 a.m.:

Storm to close US-12 east of Kooskia today, other closures possible

A sign along US-12 warns drivers of avalanche danger
A sign along US-12 warns drivers of avalanche danger

Several miles of U.S. Highway 12 east of Kooskia will close today at 2 p.m. PT due to considerable avalanche risk. Given that the forecast calls for heavy precipitation over the next day, the closure is anticipated to last at least through the night.

The gates at Fish Creek (milepost 126) and Saddle Camp Road (milepost 139) will close, and ITD crews are working with the U.S. Forest Service to notify any recreationists or drivers within the corridor of the impending closure.

Avalanche specialists with ITD will be on site to help local maintenance crews reassess conditions and reopen the highway when it is safe to do so. Another release will be sent once a determination to open the road is made.

The same storm is also affecting several other highways in the region. U.S. Highway 95 south of Moscow is experiencing blowing and drifting snow and could close if conditions worsen. State Highway 64* from Nezperce (milepost 0) to Four Corners (milepost 8) remains closed due to drifting snow. Tomorrow forecasted wind speeds could also create dangerous conditions for drivers on US-95 between Grangeville and Cottonwood, which may result in a closure.

Drivers should use 511.idaho.gov to stay updated on road closures and conditions.

*CORRECTION: SH-64 was closed east of Nezperce for several miles. SH-162 is the highway that connects with Four Corners and closed Jan. 3 from 1 – 7 p.m. 

ITD issues reminder on plow safety following six incidents in two weeks

Stock photo of another vehicle hitting a plow

Stock photo shown above. 

With snow in the forecast for several regions in the state, the Idaho Transportation Department would like to remind drivers how to travel with plows on the road.

In just the last two weeks, there have been four incidents of drivers striking plows and two incidents of drivers forcing them off the road. This compares to eight plow strikes recorded last year. Most of the collisions have occurred after other drivers tried passing plows on the right.

Drivers should be aware that most ITD trucks have two plows: one on the front, and one that extends from the right side known as a wing plow. Lights alert drivers to the presence of wing plows, but during storms those lights and the wing plows can be obscured by plumes of snow.

So far this winter, plows have been struck in nearly every region of the state:

  • On Dec. 9, a plow was hit on Interstate 90 near the Rose Lake exit when a driver tried to pass on the right.
  • On Dec. 14, a plow on U.S. Highway 95 near Moscow was forced off the road to avoid hitting a vehicle that had lost control and was in the opposing lane.*
  • On Dec. 16, a plow was hit on U.S. Highway 20 near Ashton and on Interstate 84 near Twin Falls. Both incidents involved drivers trying to pass on the right. That same night a plow on US-95 near Winchester was forced off the road to avoid hitting a vehicle that had lost control and was in the opposing lane.

The latest plow strike occurred this morning on I-90 near Osburn. Another vehicle attempted to pass the plow on the right, collided with the wing and forced the plow off the road. The driver then fled the scene. The Idaho State Police are investigating the incident.

To date no one has been injured. However, plows must be checked for any damage before being put back into service, which stretches resources thin with a direct impact to driving conditions.

“This time of year drivers need to take their time and never pass a plow on the right,” said Jerry Wilson, the operations engineer for North Idaho. “Let’s all get home safely.”

Know before you go and check 511.idaho.gov for road conditions before traveling. For winter driving tips, visit itd.idaho.gov/travel.

*Post updated Dec. 23 to reflect that this near-collision occurred on Dec. 17 on Palouse River Drive near the Moscow shed.

It’s time to be “Idaho Ready” for winter driving

Ahead of the busy holiday travel season, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) encourages drivers to be “Idaho Ready” for winter driving. ITD’s annual winter safety campaign aims to help drivers prepare for challenging conditions on the state’s highways, before hitting the road.

“Idaho Ready” tips and resources will be shared weekly through ITD’s social media accounts and website itd.idaho.gov/travel. Short videos, blog posts, infographics, and photos will teach drivers how to safely get around this winter. Planned topics include navigating the new Idaho 511, general winter driving tips for Idaho newcomers, how to keep vehicles ready for colder temperatures, and snowplow ride along videos to hear safety advice straight from ITD operators.

Each winter ITD’s 550 hardworking snowplow operators travel a combined 3.4 million miles clearing roads across the state. “Idaho Ready” also focuses on keeping these important employees safe. When encountering a snowplow on the road, drivers are reminded, the safest place is behind the plow—never pass a snowplow on the right.

Other quick winter travel tips:

  • Check the road conditions before traveling. Visit 511.idaho.gov or download the Idaho 511 app for an easy look at weather reports, cameras, and more. Idaho 511 updates are now tweeted too! Follow @Idaho511 on Twitter.
  • Keep a winter emergency kit in your car with food/water, small shovel, warm blanket, etc.
  • When roads are wet or icy, slow down and give yourself more stopping distance. Turn off cruise control and remember, bridges and overpasses are the first to freeze when temperatures drop.
  • If you do slide, stay calm, brake very gently, and turn your wheel in the direction of the skid. Try not to overcorrect.
  • Keep your windshield completely clear of snow and ice. Fill up on windshield washer fluid, make sure your tires are in good shape, and battery is charged. Learn how to use tire chains and carry them with you.
  • Give our snowplow drivers room to work. Never pass a snowplow on the right! The safest place is behind the plow where the road is clear.
  • Let others know your travel plans, especially if you will be driving through areas with no cell service. Check in when you make it.
  • Beware of drowsy driving! Stop and rest when needed, and plan breaks on long road trips. Rest areas are mapped on Idaho 511.
  • If your holiday celebrations include alcohol, plan ahead for a sober ride home. Look out for your friends and family and help them get home safely too.
  • Buckle up, stay engaged behind the wheel, and drive for the conditions this winter.

Follow along with ITD and the Idaho Ready campaign this winter:

ITD mourns loss of Jan Vassar, first female appointed to Idaho Transportation Board

LEWISTON – Longtime Idaho Transportation Board Member Jan Vassar passed away Oct. 22 at a hospital in Lewiston, the result of sepsis and pneumonia. Vassar was a member of the seven-member board for more than 12 years, serving the District 2 region of Nez Perce, Latah, Idaho, Clearwater and Lewis counties. She was the first female appointee to the transportation board.

“Jan was a great person. She was well liked by staff and her fellow board members for her gracious and humble presence,” said Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Bill Moad. “She brought vast experience and knowledge of transportation issues not just in her district, but across Idaho. Jan was a true professional, always prepared to make decisions on behalf of all Idahoans. She handled her board business with tremendous class and grace. We plan to honor her legacy with a fitting tribute at next month’s board meeting.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little was one of many deeply touched by Vassar.

“Jan was a dedicated public servant who made great contributions to our state and her community. She will be deeply missed by many colleagues, neighbors, and loved ones,” Governor Little said.

Vassar began her tenure on the board about the same time Brian Ness took over as Director of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) in late 2009.

“Member Vassar understood what it took to provide excellent service to the public and was integral to helping ITD achieve all that we have over the past 12 years,” said Director Ness. “Jan was a tremendous advocate for transportation and for the people of this department. I can speak for all ITD employees when I say she will be greatly missed.”

Before serving on the Idaho Transportation Board, Vassar spent 29 years in the public sector, the last 14 of which were as the Lewiston City Manager. She began working for the city as an intern in 1977. Vassar worked on the city’s administrative staff in various positions before becoming City Manager.

“It was shocking to hear the news. I have known Jan for more than 20 years and hold her in the highest regard for experience and knowledge,” said District 2 Engineer Doral Hoff. “She was always friendly, thoughtful and professional. The district will miss her and we send our condolences to her husband, John, and the entire Vassar family. ITD has lost a treasured person.”

Note: A funeral service for Jan will be held on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. at Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church in Lewiston, 633 5th Avenue.

Emergency repairs to Clearwater Memorial Bridge to start Thursday night

Piers of a primary bridge in Lewiston

Repairs to the Clearwater Memorial Bridge are scheduled for at least three nights this week, from Thursday, October 28, through Saturday, October 30. During this time, joints on the eastbound lanes that allow the bridge to expand and contract with the weather will be replaced.

Both directions of traffic will be reduced to one lane each week night from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Drivers will be directed to the westbound side of the bridge to give crews room to work. Rainy conditions may affect the schedule and result in additional nights of work.

Work is scheduled at night to reduce the effect on commuters. Impacts will be very similar to a previous round of emergency repairs last October to joints on the westbound lanes.

A project in 2023 will rehabilitate the 1951 structure, but the joints will not be able to support traffic until then without significant maintenance and must be addressed now.

Download a rendering of what the bridge will look like after construction starts in 2023.

 

Idaho Transportation Department seeking bids for US-95 expansion south of Moscow

The Idaho Transportation Department is now seeking bids on a project to expand US-95 south of Moscow.

“This a major step forward toward construction,” District Engineer Doral Hoff said.

Three years of work will transform 6.5 miles of US-95 between Thorn Creek and Moscow, shifting it less than a mile to the east and turning it into a four-lane highway safer for all motorists. The new route will tie in at Reisenauer Hill and feature flatter grades, fewer approaches and less severe curves. The current route is the last two-lane section between Moscow and Lewiston.

“Although drivers won’t see major excavation start until at least mid-April, bidding now allows us to get started on the business of planning for construction with a contractor,” Hoff said.

The first year of work is expected to focus on the southern end near Reisenauer Hill, with the following two years building the remaining connection to Moscow.

“We want drivers to know that this long-awaited safety project is finally ready to be built,” said Ken Helm, an ITD Program Manager who has been working on this project since it was first proposed in 1998.

Contractors can find the advertising package at itd.idaho.gov/business for at least four weeks, with the contract awarded as early as November 9. The contract is expected to be awarded for approximately $71 million.

More project information is available at itdprojects.org/us95thorncreek.

US-26 in Idaho officially named POW-MIA Memorial Highway during ceremony and sign unveiling in Carey

Image of US-26 POW-MIA Memorial Highway Sign Locations

Idaho legislators, representatives from the National League of POW-MIA Families, community members and the Idaho Transportation Department will officially celebrate the naming of US-26 in Idaho as the “POW-MIA Memorial Highway” at 2 p.m. Wednesday, October 6, 2021, at the Carey City Park – Boyd Stocking Pavilion.

During the 2021 Idaho legislative session, HB132aa sponsored by Representative Scott Syme and Senator Patti Anne Lodge, formally designated and named US-26 in Idaho, the POW-MIA Memorial Highway. The bill unanimously passed both chambers, respectively, and was signed by Governor Little in April.

Idaho is home to eight soldiers designated as MIA and the City of Carey happens to be home to one of those individuals. Jon Michael Sparks was a helicopter pilot for the US Army and was lost in Long Binh Province, Laos, on March 19, 1971.

US-26 in Idaho runs from the Oregon border to the Wyoming border. The highway naming is part of a nationwide effort to designate US-26 as the POW-MIA Memorial Highway from coast to coast, with several other states participating over the years as well.

There are 10 locations across US-26 in southern Idaho where new POW-MIA Memorial Highway signs will be installed.

Repairs to ID-11 slide near Headquarters to start next week

Repairs to the Idaho Highway 11 slide south of Headquarters will begin Monday, October 4, and last through mid-November.

“Monitoring devices have shown no movement since we installed them in the spring, so we are now able to start work,” Project Manager Erin Buck said.

The highway first sank in April, eventually creating an eight-foot drop off. ITD bored underneath the highway to collect soil samples in May to determine the severity of the issue and identify the best long-term repair.

“We will construct a soil nail wall,” Buck said. “At a high level, this involves boring into the slope and using 40-foot nails to connect the failing material to the stable material.”

One lane of the highway will remain closed, but traffic will guided by temporary signals rather than the yield signs that have been in place.

This type of repair has been used successfully to mitigate other slides in the region, including the 2017 slide at Bear Ridge Grade north of Kendrick on Idaho Highway 3.

Knife River, the contractor that resurfaced seven miles of ID-11 between Grangemont Road and Headquarters earlier this summer, will complete the repairs for $1.1 million.

ITD seeks feedback on draft Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan update

As the Idaho Transportation Department updates its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, the public is encouraged to learn more about plans to invest nearly $35 million into projects and services over the next 15 years.

ADA Transition is the process of eliminating accessibility barriers to existing pedestrian infrastructure on the state highway system. It also helps identify programs that fund improvements through a coordinated effort with local highway districts and other municipalities.

In an effort to gather feedback about the plan, ITD will host an online survey as part of a 30-day public comment period that begins Sept. 17. The survey can be accessed at itd.idaho.gov/planning by clicking on the link. The survey is available 24 hours a day.

Staff will also hold a virtual public information meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 6:00 p.m. Mountain time. 
You can find the meeting link posted online at itd.idaho.gov/planning or by emailing ADA@itd.idaho.gov.

Comments and feedback shared during this public involvement phase will be incorporated into a draft ADA Transition Plan, that will become official after review and approval by the Federal Highway Administration and Idaho Transportation Board later this fall.

For questions or to learn more about ADA Transition, please email ADA@itd.idaho.gov or call (208)332-7823.

ITD to meet with freight stakeholders

A truck climbs a hill

The Idaho Transportation Department will meet with freight stakeholders across the state this September to collect feedback and update its freight plan.

The Idaho State Freight Plan identifies how ITD will strategically invest state and federal funding in infrastructure to increase the safety, capacity and efficiency of the freight system for the benefit of the Idaho economy.

The document analyzes the needs and issues in Idaho, details policies and strategies to overcome them, identifies critical freight corridors and lists projects to be funded. These projects are supported by approximately $10 million of federal funding each year.

Freight stakeholders utilize infrastructure on a daily basis for basic operations and produce, ship/receive or transport the majority of goods within the state. Such industries include: agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, mining, utilities, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade and transportation and warehousing. Those who would like to participate in the process should contact Scott Luekenga at (208) 334-8057 or scott.luekenga@itd.idaho.gov to get details on the available times and locations.

Participants will be guided through a 30-minute survey based on their industry. They are invited to engage in person at the following events:

  • Lewiston on Sept. 2
  • Blackfoot on Sept. 16
  • Twin Falls on Sept. 21

Virtual opportunities will also be accommodated through the end of September. Another round of public comment is expected in spring 2022 to review the updated plan.