Tree removal at the Orofino Airport underway, with impacts to US-12 next week

A car passes the Orofino Airport on US-12

Trees along US-12 near the Orofino Airport will be removed next week to improve safety for flyers and drivers.

In recent years, the trees have grown taller and thicker, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to ask the City of Orofino to remove those that are encroaching on the runway. Some trees are on property owned by the Idaho Transportation Department, which supports their removal to enhance safety by decreasing shade in winter months and improve drivers’ line of sight.

Starting Monday, March 23, crews will start removing trees between US-12 and the airport. They are expected to be on site from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for up to five days. A helicopter will transport the logs to another part of the grounds for processing.

When crews are on scene, the westbound slow lane will be closed. All westbound traffic will be stopped for up to 15 minutes when larger trees with the capacity to reach the road are felled. All lanes will be open when there is no active work.

Work is already underway to remove trees on the north side of the airport. Any questions may be directed to the City of Orofino at (208) 476-4725.

Rock removal to begin next week on US-95 at Winchester Hill

The final season of work on a two-year project to extend the southbound passing lane on US-95 near Winchester another 2.5 miles has begun. It is expected to finish in November.

The first road closure to accomodate blasting activities for rock removal is planned for March 12 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Blasting is scheduled to avoid peak commute times or weekends and is expected to last for an hour at a time. Drivers should heed digital signs in the area or visit 511.idaho.gov to avoid closures.

Other construction activities will require reduced speeds in the work zone, with crews expected on site during the day from around 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and at nights when needed. No work is expected on weekends at this time.

Last year, blasting made room for 1.5 miles of passing lane to be added in the narrow canyon, and this year that surface will be paved. Of the nine aging culverts in this section, four still need to be upgraded to allow for fish passage.

ITD to clear trees along Idaho Highway 162 in the coming weeks to make it safer

Trees near ID-162 at milepost 20

Trees along Idaho Highway 162 near milepost 20 will be removed in the coming weeks to improve safety for drivers, with work scheduled to start today.

Maintenance crews will gradually remove trees that appear to be dead or dying within this road section. The highway will be reduced to one lane and closed completely for approximately 15 minutes each time a tree is dropped.

Crews are generally expected to work between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The brushing project could take up to two weeks to complete between snow storms, so drivers are advised to pay attention to signs in the area and to check 511.idaho.gov for specific timing of impacts.

This particular section lost several trees during a storm in early February that left one ITD operator injured after a tree fell onto his plow truck as he stood next to it. That employee, while initially released from the hospital after the incident, is still recovering at home.

“Recent events remind us of the dangers of dead trees close to the road,” Foreman Lee Linabary said. “This is one of several sections of highway that has been on the list for brushing activities ever since the 2015 fire near Kamiah.”

An estimated thirty trees will be removed in the initial area, but drivers should expect more trees with the potential to fall onto highways during storms to be cleared along several more miles of ID-162 near Kamiah and ID-62 near Craigmont this summer.

Wet weather expected to create hazardous travel conditions in North Central Idaho through the weekend

Plow truck damaged by a tree on ID-162 MP 21

Drivers are encouraged to exercise caution as snowy, rainy and windy conditions are creating hazardous conditions by bringing trees and rocks down onto highways in North Central Idaho. Soils, saturated by moisture, are not able to anchor rocks and vegetation to hillsides.

Small rockslides closed Idaho Highway 14 at mileposts 22 and 38 earlier this morning, and US-12 at milepost 93 is currently blocked by fallen trees. Over the last several days, variable weather conditions have resulted in numerous callouts for downed trees, rock fall and plugged culverts.

“Heavy snow from previous storms has weighed down trees, and saturated soils are unable to keep trees in place, especially in windy conditions,” Operations Engineer Bob Schumacher said. “Just last night, one of our plow trucks—while responding to a downed tree in the road—was hit by another tree.”

The truck was not occupied at the time.

“So far, we have dealt mainly with rocks and trees,” Schumacher said. “Travelers should also be aware of the potential for avalanches in areas of steep slopes, particularly on US-12, with this variable weather.”

Drivers are advised to be cautious this time of year and to look for debris in the road. They should also check 511.idaho.gov for any road blockages or closures, and plan extra time for any travel.

Slow Your Roll – A candid Q&A with Corporal Bolen

Single car traveling in winter weather.

When it comes to winter driving, safety is always the message we try to stress. Of course, it’s easy to tell people to slow downstay engaged, and drive safely. Unless you’ve been personally affected by the consequences of speeding and winter weather, the seriousness of the message may not resonate.

Idaho State Police (ISP) Trooper BolenWith this in mind, I decided to sit down with our south-central Idaho Law Enforcement Liaison, Scott Bolen. Corporal Bolen has served with Idaho State Police for five years. He’s seen a lot of incidents on Idaho roads during his tenure with ISP. Corporal Bolen offered some insight and advice to benefit all motorists navigating Idaho roads this season.


Q: How do you feel about driving in the snow?

When there is snow on the roadway, it becomes more challenging to drive. Often, snow is just one aspect of multiple challenges a driver faces in winter weather. For example, when we look outside today, not only do we find snowy conditions, but that snow combines with dense fog, which further decreases visibility for a motorist. It’s not impossible to drive in these conditions. However, if you decide to get behind the wheel, you need to decide to drive safely – slow down, increase your stopping distance, and drive for the conditions. 


Q: What are some winter driving incidents you have encountered that have left a lasting impression?

Unfortunately, I encounter many incidents that leave lasting impressions. A few years ago, it was a particularly bad winter. There were a lot of slide-offs that season, and I remember responding to an incident on the interstate where a passenger vehicle had slid off into the median. Visibility was very low that day, and that, combined with the high speed of traveling motorists, made the side of the roadway a frightening place to be. Multiple vehicles, including a semi-truck, came within a breath of hitting my patrol car while I worked to assist the vehicle in distress.  

Another incident occurred where a semi-trailer came over a hill and hit a patch of ice, causing it to jackknife on the highway. I arrived on the scene to find the driver standing outside in the freezing weather. He was terrified that another vehicle was going to come upon him too quickly, not be able to stop and collide with his trailer. Both of these situations could have improved if motorists slowed down, paid attention to their surroundings, and drove for the conditions. 


Q: How many incidents do you feel could have been avoided?

A lot. I cannot even begin to count how many slide-offs and rollovers to which I’ve responded. Many crashes were avoidable if drivers would have taken their cruise control off in slick weather and slowed down. It’s sad to say, but a vast majority of people are impatient. They don’t realize that taking a few extra minutes to get somewhere could make a difference in not getting there at all. 


Q: We remind people to plan ahead when they travel and encourage them to pack emergency winter kits in their cars. What other tips would you recommend for motorists this season?

I think it’s important to remind people to check the weather before they get on the roadway so that they can plan their commute accordingly. The live camera feeds and road updates on 511.idaho.gov are an excellent resource for people to utilize. If individuals are traveling, they need to tell people what route they are taking and what time they expect to arrive at their destination. This planning will help out greatly in the unfortunate event that you get lost or stranded during travel. 


Q: If you could get all drivers to make one change in their behavior, what would it be and why?

The things I’ve seen in my career have made me think and drive differently. Telling people to slow down and be patient is something I cannot stress enough. So many of our winter crashes occur because motorists want to keep going as fast as the posted speed limit allows. Those speeds are set for ideal driving conditions. While you may be able to drive 65 or 80 mph on slick roads, that doesn’t mean you will be able to maintain control of your vehicle or stop. Slowing down and increasing your stopping distance gives you more time to react if something goes wrong.


Q: Anything else you want to add?

Just that we are here to serve the people and help keep our roadways safe. In emergencies, you should always call 9-1-1. If there is a non-emergency, for example, you slide off the road or even suspect a DUI vehicle, call our dispatch center at *ISP (*- 4-7-7), and we will head out to help. 

To pass or not to pass?

It’s a cold, windy, snowy night driving on the interstate. You’re in a hurry to get home from a long day at work, but you can’t see very well in the snowstorm. Cruising along, you drive up on some flashing lights and realize it’s a snowplow ahead.

As you get closer to the plow, you think, “What should I do? Should I pass, or do I stay behind the plow?” When encountering a snowplow, we have a few safety tips to take into consideration.

First things first, please slow down. When you approach a snowplow, the driver may not be able to see you. Snowplows have many blind spots, and when the plow is in use, they have even more limited visibility. Drivers hit many plow trucks each year, which endangers the drivers of both vehicles and other motorists in the area. Leaving more space between the plow and your vehicle gives the plow driver and you more time to react should you hit ice or another problem. Driving too close behind the plow can also expose your vehicle to de-icing materials. When approaching a plow, slow down and be aware of your surroundings.

In heavy snowfall and icy road conditions, the safest place to drive is behind a snowplow at a safe distance. Too often, drivers pass the plow and end up driving at a slower speed than the plow itself, in turn, slowing everyone down.

Passing at elevated speeds on icy road conditions is risky. If you should pass a plow, do not pass on the right. There is a wing plow that is on the right side of the vehicle, extends up to 10′, and is typically masked by a snow plume that it creates when clearing the roadway of snow. Don’t pass on a corner, in an area with blocked views, or on an icy stretch that you are uncomfortable passing on; this makes a safer environment for you and surrounding motorists.

If you see a snowplow driving towards you from the opposite direction, be courteous. Again, please slow down and drive on the right side of your lane to give the snowplow enough room to do its job. Many state highways are narrow, so snowplows take up a little more space on the single lane as they need to plow the center line.

Let’s remember, plow drivers are working to make the road safer for everyone to drive. Using caution when driving around a plow can save someone from having a bad day, or even save a life. Snowplow drivers are our friends and neighbors; they have families too and want to end each shift safely. They drive in the most treacherous storms to keep roads open and as safe as possible for all of us. Please show them respect, give them the space they need to work, be attentive, and, most of all, drive safe. We want you and our plow drivers to get home safely every day!

Check 511 before you hit the road this weekend

With winter weather bearing down on much of the state, a new and improved version of the 511 Traveler Information System is ready to help with your travel plans.

The improved site, still at 511.idaho.gov, offers an updated look and makes it simpler to find useful information for navigating winter roads statewide. The 511 slogan — “Know B 4 U Go” — is a reminder that it’s best to get road condition information before you get behind the wheel and start your trip. Factoring in conditions along your travel route will help you safely get to your destination and back home again.

511 has several tools to show winter road conditions. Snowplow drivers report into headquarters after they maintain a section of road. That report shows up on a color-coded map of the highway. You can see at a glance where ice, snow or low visibility may be impacting driving conditions. From those color-coded road sections, you can navigate to view more details and access short-term weather forecasts for that section of roadway. If conditions are difficult enough to cause a weather delay for drivers, that will be indicated on the map along with delay details.

Another popular feature on 511 is the roadway cameras. Lousy weather conditions show up as alerts and will flag what weather conditions might make driving hazardous. 511 will also display winter storm warnings. The cameras can be useful for planning highway trips or navigating across cities during busy, snowy rush hours.

511 was used over 5.6M times last year, and usage is expected to increase with the improved website and app. ITD welcomes user feedback, and based on user experience, ITD will continue to modify and improve the site over the next few months.

Are you traveling for the holidays? Before you leave for grandma’s house, check 511.idaho.gov, call by phone at 511 or download the Idaho 511 app. The app is a convenient way to stay connected during your travels and check for delays or road updates along the way. Stay safe and happy holidays!

 

 

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.

Before you go, don’t forget to pack your winter car emergency kit

Vehicles traveling in winter conditions

Of the many things that Idahoans know a lot about, one of them is how to be prepared. Prepared for the big game, prepared for the campout, and prepared for the road. Whether you’ve lived in Idaho your whole life or are a new resident, it’s important to do everything you can to prepare for an Idaho winter. As the cold weather sets in, so do winter road conditions.

So how do you prepare for Idaho winter travel? We recommend starting by calling or visiting 511.idaho.gov to check road conditions and alerting friends and family of your travel plans (especially if you are traveling through areas with poor cellular service). Take time to review a map and make sure you know your path of travel as opposed to relying solely on GPS navigation which can occasionally be incorrect. Once you’ve checked those things off your list, ensure you are prepared for whatever comes your way by packing a winter car emergency kit.

Keeping a winter car emergency kit on hand won’t just benefit you, but it could come in handy for others you come across while traveling. Here are some items we recommend you include when building your winter car emergency kit:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries to use as a light source and signal for help.
  • Jumper cables to jump your own vehicle or assist other motorists.
  • Tire pressure gauge to ensure you are driving with the optimum inflation.
  • Cat litter to use as traction on slick surfaces.
  • Small camping shovel to assist with removing snow around tires and tailpipes.
  • LED flares to alert motorists of a broken down vehicle or roadway obstruction.
  • First Aid Kit for minor injuries and emergencies.
  • High protein food and bottled water to keep you hydrated and give you energy should you be stuck for a period of time. If your food items are in cans, make sure you also have necessary items like a can opener and utensils in your kit as well.
  • Winter coats and gear such as hats, gloves, etc. to help keep your body temperature up.
  • Blanket or a small sleeping bag for warmth in freezing conditions.

Some of the items may seem excessive but if you run off the road, breakdown or simply get stranded during an extreme storm, these items will help keep you warm and safe until roadside or emergency services are able to reach you.

For those that already have a winter car emergency kit in a vehicle, make sure you do an annual check of items to ensure they are in good condition and working order – remember, food expires and batteries don’t hold their charge forever. Also, if you do find yourself stuck in the snow, don’t run your vehicle without first ensuring the tailpipe and up to three feet behind your vehicle is free of snow; this, along with opening your windows, will prevent deadly carbon monoxide from building up inside the automobile.

As a parting note, be sure to replace worn windshield wipers, keep gas in your car and have the proper tires on before driving in winter weather conditions. Keeping all of that in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being prepared for an Idaho winter.

ITD launches annual winter driving safety campaign in advance of Thanksgiving travel

The Idaho Transportation Department is launching the annual winter safety campaign “Idaho Ready” to help drivers prepare for challenging conditions on the state’s highways. This launch comes as winter weather is expected to bear down on much of the state and holiday travel begins.

The campaign offers information via social media and a page on the department’s website to help drivers safely arrive at their destinations.

“Short videos will present information on using Idaho’s 511 Traveler Information system as a resource before heading out on the highway, how to maintain your vehicle during winter months, and driving safely in winter conditions,” said Reed Hollinshead with ITD’s Office of Communication. “Important safety information will be posted regularly to Facebook, Twitter, and the ‘Idaho Ready’ web page. New information this year will address new drivers on Idaho roads — those who recently moved here or have recently been licensed.”

Additional information on winter safety can be found at itd.idaho.gov/road-mtce.

Follow ITD’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IdahoTransportationDepartment, or the department’s Twitter account at IdahoITD.

Drivers are also encouraged to check the new and improved Idaho 511 Traveler Information website at 511.idaho.gov for the latest road conditions and for updates as those conditions change.