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 remembers 1995 Noseeum Creek flooding on US-12

Picture of missing highway section on US-12 after Nov. 20, 1995 Noseeum Creek flooding.

When 400,000 tons of mud, rock, trees and other debris obliterated 1,200 feet of highway on Nov. 20, 1995, it created “the biggest slide of my career,” said Mark Schuster, maintenance foreman for US-12 for the last three decades. “When I got the call from Kati, I’ll admit I doubted her.”

Just weeks on the job, Kati Young was new to Schuster’s team, and the one who made the call that Noseeum Creek had overtaken the highway at milepost 124.6.

Heavy rains had kept the crew busy tending to little slides all week, and Young was listening to Schuster on her way home as he shared the forecast over the radio. She had slowed down to finish listening before she lost service, and ultimately, that’s what kept her out of the path of the creek washout just around the corner.

“I saw the trees coming down and water on the road,” Young said. “As water reached my tires, I backed up my oneton pickup. I did this for half a mile. It was like a fast tide coming in.”

Trees were strewn about like matchsticks, and boulders the size of Volkswagen Beetles had been pushed across the Lochsa River as Noseeum Creek crashed into the narrow channel, Young said.

When Schuster joined her, they realized that the road would have to be closed for the night—around the next bend, a section of US-12 had been completely taken out by the creek, which was estimated to be a 30-foot wall of water and mud at the time it collided with the river.

Rocks, trees, mud and other debris carried downstream by the creek created a dam, choking the river below and causing the tide-like effect above stream. Now divided by tons of material and missing a section of road, Schuster warned his crew downstream to seek high ground and assess the situation from Fish Creek Hill.

Dispatch took care of notifying nearby towns, and that was it – there was no 511 in 1995.

Given the late hour, ITD didn’t get a good look at it until the next morning. The detour—a nine-hour trip to Interstate 90, US-95 and then US-12—was put in place to get over the Bitterroot Mountains, and the department knew it would be closed for weeks until the mess could be cleaned up and the road rebuilt.

Watch a 1995 update from Q6.

Those who were able to drive home enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with families, and those caught on the wrong side of the closure enjoyed it with each other.

After the holiday, multiple ITD crews began working with excavators, track hoes, dozers and dump trucks to clear debris, while engineers prepared to realign the road and put the emergency project out to bid to area contractors.

They removed an estimated 20,000 cubic yards in the first 19 days, but the 13-foot culvert for Noseeum Creek was never recovered.

“The river took care of itself,” Schuster said.

But after that, the river wasn’t the same—it was now eight feet higher than before, requiring surveyors and engineers to draw plans for drilling and blasting to realign the road.

Poor weather continued, undermining progress as crews worked seven days a week, daylight to dusk.  Nighttime work wasn’t considered safe.

The closure affected the travel routes of fuel and chip trucks from Montana, as well as garbage trucks heading from Idaho into Montana. While services didn’t cease, the detour impacted staff times and fuel costs. ITD still maintained Lolo Pass for U.S. Forest Service employees to access work sites at Powell.

Forty-seven dump trucks would eventually carry 3,000 tons of rock from Lewiston to lay the base for 1,200 feet of highway that would be reconstructed. Emergency efforts and permanent repairs totaled $660,000.

Twenty-five days after the flood, US-12 reopened. It was December 23, a few days before holiday travelers would be looking to cross Lolo Pass to return home.

The gift to the highway department: reuniting families and a shorter commute home.

US-95 construction close to Winchester nears winter shutdown

Picture showing flagger on US-95 in Culdesac Canyon in November 2019

Work that begin in April to extend the passing lane on US-95 near Winchester will be mostly complete for the season after crews finishing paving on Friday, November 15.

Paving operations are currently underway, with the highway reduced to one lane of alternating traffic. Once paving is complete, the speed limit will revert to 65 mph but could be adjusted as necessary throughout winter.

Miscellaneous work will continue after paving but all work is expected to be done by Thanksgiving.

“This year, we were able excavate enough rock for the southernmost mile of the passing lane and upgrade five culverts to be more fish friendly,” said Curtis Arnzen, ITD’s resident engineer for the project. “Construction next year will be similar to what it was like this year, though there won’t be as many blastings scheduled.”

Construction will resume in March 2020 to finish excavating and paving the three-mile passing lane and replace the remaining four culverts. The passing lane will not be open to the public until the entire project is complete next fall.

The existing passing lane from milepost 289 to milepost 290.5 was constructed in 2016. By 2027, ITD plans to have a completed passing lane between Winchester and Culdesac for an estimated $50 million.

Brief closures on US-12 east of Lewiston planned Tuesday morning for utility work

https://itd.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/US-12-closure_Avista-river-crossing-location_November-2019.jpg

Two 15-minute closures are scheduled Tuesday morning on US-12 east of Lewiston to allow Avista to install a new electric distribution line.

The first closure will be near the 36th Street intersection at 7:30 a.m. A helicopter will transport a power line over the highway and across the river as part of the Clearwater River Distribution Project. Traffic will be released after the first crossing and then held again for one more crossing.

The Port of Entry will not be affected but traffic control devices may be in place in the area until 10 a.m.

For information on the project, please call Avista.

Repairs to flood damage on ID-162 near Kamiah scheduled for mid-November

Eroded shoulder on ID-162 near Kamiah in August.

Repairs are scheduled Wednesday through Saturday (Nov. 13 – 16) to address damage from springtime flooding on Idaho Highway 162 four miles south of Kamiah.

Flaggers will guide one lane of traffic through the work zone between mileposts 18-19 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. No traffic impacts are expected at night.

Crews will place large rocks against the streambank to support the highway shoulder and minimize future erosion concerns.

Paving of US-12 near Orofino starts Thursday

Car drives on deteriorating pavement on US-12 between Big Canyon (Peck) and Orofino

Crews will start paving nearly five miles of US-12 west of Orofino this Thursday, September 19. They are expected to remain on site until the middle of October, though traffic impacts after paving will be minimal.

Replacing deteriorating pavement from Big Canyon Road to Tuning Drive is estimated to take one week, with drivers guided by a pilot car through the single-lane work zone.

Work will take place during daylight hours, and the highway will open fully at night.

Other weather-dependent work includes adding rumble strips and pavement marking. Earlier this year, guardrail was replaced and signage was updated in advance of paving.

Closures for US-95 construction in Culdesac Canyon shifted into evening commute to accommodate dwindling daylight hours

Equipment on a trail above US-95 in Culdesac Canyon helps with rock removal to extend the passing lane.

With shorter daylight hours, construction delays on US-95 in Culdesac Canyon near Winchester are shifting earlier and expected to affect evening commutes as fall conditions require a change in the contractor’s blasting schedule.

Since construction began in April to extend a passing lane through the rocky canyon, closures for blasting have typically been scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but dwindling daylight now requires blasting to occur before sunset.

Next week, rock excavation and cleanup activities will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the following week they will begin at 6 p.m.

Temporary closures are still expected to last up to 1.5 hours, with up to three closures possible each week. They are advertised on 511.idaho.gov and on message signs stationed near the project.

Work this season is expected to end by November, with the entire project scheduled for completion in fall 2020.

Pavement preservation on several highways in North-Central Idaho begins this week

US-95 between Lapwai and Spalding Bridge, to be sealcoated summer 2019

Sealcoats to preserve existing pavement on several highways across North-Central Idaho will begin Thursday, July 25. All work will be done by September.

Flaggers will direct traffic to run on one lane of loose gravel through these work zones. All lanes will be open at night when crews are not working.

The following routes are planned to be sealcoated:

  • Idaho Highway 8 between Ruby Creek and Elk River: 10 miles starting July 25
  • Idaho Highway 7 between Orofino and Ahsahka: 4 miles starting July 31
  • Idaho Highway 11 between Greer and the top of the grade: 8 miles starting Aug. 1
  • Idaho Highway 64 between Kamiah and milepost 30.8: 4 miles starting Aug. 5
  • US-95 from Grangeville north to the concrete section: 12 miles starting Aug. 7
  • US-95 Cottonwood business loop: 2 miles starting Aug. 9
  • US-95 near Craigmont from Lauer Lane to Westlake Road: 2 miles starting August 12
  • US-95 passing lane in Culdesac Canyon at milepost 289: starting Aug. 13
  • US-95 between Lapwai and the Spalding Bridge: 4 miles starting Aug. 14
  • US-12 dike route in Lewiston: 2 miles starting Aug. 15

Note that dates and order of work are subject to change. Most sections will take two days or less to sealcoat.

Also called chip sealing, applying sealcoats protects the surface of the road and extends the lifespan of the pavement. A sticky slurry is sprayed on the road, rock chips are applied on top of the slurry and traffic compresses the chips into place for a long-lasting seal.

Reduced speeds are required on fresh sealcoats to prevent loose rocks from flying up. Following product application, work zones will be broomed off and restriped in groups, rather than one at a time.

Repairs to Greer Bridge begin next Monday

Repairs to the Greer Bridge will start Monday, July 22, with temporary signals impacting both Idaho Highway 11 and US-12 traffic until construction is complete in late September.

One lane at a time will be open over the bridge, and drivers may experience up to 15-minute delays.

This summer the driving surface will be improved, and supporting beams will be painted to protect them from rusting and to keep the bridge in service longer.

The structure was built in 1954.

To learn more about construction projects in your area, visit itdprojects.org. To find traveler information, visit 511.idaho.gov.

New turn lanes added to highways near Deary and Harvard starting July 22

Construction starts Monday, July 22 to add turn lanes to Idaho Highway 9 near Deary and Harvard this summer.

Both right- and left-turn lanes will be built on ID-6 to access ID-9 in Harvard, as well on ID-8 to access ID-9 in Deary.

Work will last until late September, with flaggers stationed at the intersections. One intersection at a time will be improved, and there will be no impacts at night when crews are not working.

To learn more about construction projects in your area, visit itdprojects.org. To find traveler information, visit 511.idaho.gov.