With drivers back on the road, ITD kicks off another work zone awareness week

Crew removing brush on US-2 as an example of a short duration operation

National Work Zone Awareness Week is traditionally held in April, but with more drivers back on highways, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is again spotlighting work zone safety.

ITD asks media partners and drivers to tune in each day this week (May 18 – 23) to the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages to see different types of work zones.

Drivers are familiar with larger road construction projects, which are typically well-marked and have better visibility, but they may not be as familiar with short-duration operations.

These can pop up anywhere, at any time. Whether it is a highway worker stopping to remove a shredded tire or animal carcass from the road, or performing maintenance work like repairing guardrail right next to the travel lanes, these jobs generally put workers closer to the road, and closer to danger. There is less time for the worker or the driver to take evasive action when encountering short-duration operations.

Just last year, an ITD operator was killed outside Arco in a short-duration operation, reminding us all of the importance of being safe and vigilant in work zones across the state.

During this week, ITD also remembers the sacrifices of other workers lost over the years while on the job – many of them were killed in work zones. Since this picture was taken, there have been two more markers added to the Fallen Workers Memorial, bringing the total to 40 workers since 1960.

“Work zones can be the most hazardous areas on our state highway system,” ITD Safety Manager Randall Danner said. “We urge drivers to use extreme caution when passing through these areas so they can arrive at their destination safely and our workers can return home to their loved ones.”

In addition to short-duration maintenance operations, ITD has dozens of projects planned this year with information on itdprojects.org. Each project is different in terms of traffic revisions and reduced speed limits. Please check 511.idaho.gov for traveler information.

Construction on I-15 between Dubois and Hamer begins today

IDAHO FALLS – The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) will begin construction on Interstate 15 between Dubois and Hamer starting today.

This section of roadway on I-15 has reached the end of its design life and will be reconstructed to meet current design standards. This project is expected to be completed by this fall.

Drivers can expect reduced speeds and width restrictions throughout the work zone as traffic control will be in effect. Traffic will be merged to single-lane two-way traffic.

ITD encourages drivers to slow down, pay attention, follow posted speed limit signs and watch for crews working in the area.

Motorists are encouraged to plan ahead and check 511.idaho.gov for roadway information.

Knife River Corporation – Northwest is the contractor on this project.

State’s old Highway Advisory Radio system being decommissioned

The Idaho State Highway Advisory Radio (HAR) communication system is being decommissioned. The use of the old system was suspended on April 1. ITD is evaluating whether existing HAR equipment and infrastructure can be repurposed to meet other needs.

There are 25 HAR sites and 58 beacons located around the state, broadcasting emergency information on the am radio frequency. However, the equipment had reached the end of its useful life, and no longer met the technology security requirements of the state.

In addition, surveys showed that the HAR system, although once popular, was now ranked well behind other more viable sources for information distribution, such as 511 or roadside electronic message boards.

 

Food trucks to serve truck drivers at Idaho rest areas

Customers line up six feet apart at a food truck stationed on I-84 at Blacks Creek

An emergency exemption by the Idaho Transportation Department will allow permitted food trucks to set up at rest areas and offer hot meals to truck drivers and other travelers.

“We heard truck drivers were having difficulties finding hot meals with the restrictions placed on nonessential businesses during the stay-at-home order,” said Nestor Fernandez, ITD’s Mobility Services Engineer. “Our goal is to support them as best as we can during this pandemic, especially long-haul drivers delivering goods across the U.S.”

ITD worked with the Idaho Trucking Association to identify opportune times for vendors to stage at rest areas as well as the Southern Idaho Food Truck Association to solicit appropriate vendors.

Food trucks will be permitted at rest areas around the state, with up to two vendors allowed at each site. They will not be permitted at rest areas that already offer these services and are under public-private management. Learn more about the temporary program.

“These temporary services are targeted at truck drivers and other essential travelers,” Fernandez said. “We don’t want to attract crowds and will advise permitted vendors to follow healthcare guidelines.”

Earlier this month, the Federal Highway Administration announced it would temporarily relax enforcement of rules that prohibit commercial activity on state-owned, federally-supported right of way like rest areas.

Once the stay-at-home order is lifted in Idaho and restrictions on nonessential businesses are eased, food trucks will no longer be permitted at rest areas.

ITD increases frequency of cleaning at major rest areas

Rest areas will stay open to support the delivery of goods and services through Idaho and the nation, with key rest areas to be cleaned more frequently to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“Rest areas provide an essential service as a respite for truckers,” said Nestor Fernandez, ITD’s mobility services engineer. “While we’re seeing fewer passenger vehicles on the highway, freight services are in full tilt. We have heard from our partners in the trucking industry that they need these areas open, and we are working to meet that need.”

Rest areas at Midvale Hill on US-95 south of Midvale, Blacks Creek on I-84 east of Boise and Huetter on I-90 west of Coeur d’Alene will be cleaned every two hours with a focus on commonly touched surfaces like door handles.

All rest areas are cleaned two times a day, but due to high usage at these locations they will be cleaned more often. ITD is working with vendors responsible for cleaning rest areas to make sure they have the resources they need.

The rest area on US-12 at Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border, which is jointly managed with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), is currently closed.

“Out of an abundance of caution for our employees and the public, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests has made the decision to close the Lolo Pass Visitor Center, including the restrooms, until further notice,” said Jennifer Becar, public affairs specialist with the USFS. “This decision was made in order to best protect the health and safety of our employees, volunteers, and the public, and is consistent with the forest’s shift to only offering virtual services at offices and other facilities at this time.”

For more information on other USFS closures, visit www.fs.usda.gov/nezperceclearwater.

Another rest area on eastbound I-84 on the Idaho-Oregon border near Fruitland continues to be closed due to issues with the septic system.

The department is also exploring options to allow food trucks to offer services at remote rest areas to support truck drivers as they continue to deliver goods across the United States.

To check the status of specific rest areas, visit 511.idaho.gov or download the app.

Adopt a Highway program suspended during COVID-19 pandemic

ITD truck loaded with bags of trash from an Adopt a Highway pickup

The Idaho Transportation Department has suspended the Adopt a Highway and other volunteer programs to focus on essential services and promote community safety.

Under the program, volunteers adopt a section of highway for two years at a time and commit to removing litter twice a year. These sections are marked by special white and blue signs on the highway.

The department provides volunteers with safety vests, trash bags and road signs but decided to temporarily suspend the program in late March. There were concerns about encouraging large groups to gather and the ability to clean shared items between uses.

Groups are being notified via email and mail of the suspension. Organizations will not lose their adopted sections if they do not meet the required number of pickups this year.

“We appreciate the willingness of our fellow Idahoans to keep our state beautiful by picking up trash but unfortunately have to temporarily halt the program,” said Judi Conner, the volunteer services coordinator. “For the time being, drivers should expect to see more trash as ITD and our volunteers follow guidance to keep our communities safe.”

Other volunteer programs that allow nonprofit organizations to offer free refreshments at rest areas or offer educational presentations to schools have also been put on pause.

ITD aims to support volunteer services again once cleaning supplies are readily available and guidance from health experts changes.

More information about volunteer programs and contact information for program coordinators may be found at itd.idaho.gov/road-mtce.

Bridge rehabilitation to begin construction today on the ID-31 Pine Creek bridge

SWAN VALLEY – To increase the longevity of the bridge, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) will begin construction on the ID-31 Pine Creek bridge starting today.

“This bridge rehabilitation will entail replacing the bridge expansion joints, re-surfacing of the bridge deck, repairing the storm water drains, improving the erosion control on the bridge embankment, replacing the guardrail at the approaches, improving the bridge approaches and finishing with new pavement,” said ITD Project Manager Eli Robinson, “This project will greatly improve and extend the lifespan of the bridge.”

The Pine Creek bridge construction will begin today and is expected to be completed by late fall.

Drivers can expect traffic delays for the duration of the project. Reduced speed limits will be effect and traffic will be reduced to one-lane with traffic signals in place.

Please remember to pay attention, obey traffic laws and plan your commute accordingly. ITD would like to remind drivers that traffic fines are doubled in work zones. Please check 511.Idaho.gov for current road conditions.

Intersection improvements to N 4100 E on ID-48 to begin Monday with irrigation pipe work

RIGBY – Construction will start on Monday, March 23 and continue through March 27 to make improvements to the intersection of ID-48 & N 4100 E. Crews will be replacing, moving and improving the irrigation pipe at this intersection.

The contractor is building the project at this time to make the appropriate improvements while there is no irrigation water running in the ditch.

This is the first of four project phases. The next phase is expected to begin this June, as ITD adds turn lanes at the above intersection. These changes are to improve the safety to the intersection and reduce traffic delays.

Expect temporary traffic delays during construction. The eastbound and westbound lanes on ID-48 will have traffic control set up to one-way traffic from 7 a.m.to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Expect traffic delays of up to 15 minutes until the project is completed.

Traffic will also be detoured to N 4200 E and N 4000 E to access N 4100 E from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Traffic will be opened to two lanes on ID-48 overnight on weeknights, starting at 7 p.m.

Please remember to pay attention, obey traffic laws and plan your commute accordingly. ITD would like to remind drivers that traffic fines are doubled in work zones. Please check 511.Idaho.gov for current road conditions.

Temporary speed limit reductions begin Monday in East Idaho on several local highways to preserve roads, vehicles

EAST IDAHO – Recent winter storms and fluctuating temperatures have caused potholes to develop along roadways in Eastern Idaho. To ensure the safety to the traveling public, ITD will be temporarily reducing speed limits on several local highways in East Idaho beginning Monday, March 9 and continuing through May to protect vehicles and preserve roads from further damage.

Crews will lower the speed limit to 55 mph on the following highways:

  • US-20 from Chester to Ashton
  • ID-32 from Ashton to Tetonia
  • ID-33 from US-20/26 junction to I-15
  • ID-33 from Sugar City to Victor
  • ID-22 from Dubois to ID-33 junction
  • ID-47 from Ashton to milepost 7

ITD will also be temporarily lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for all commercial vehicles 10,000 GVWR or greater in the above areas. As spring breakup approaches, ITD crews will continue to repair potholes and monitor road conditions.

In addition, ITD has a project planned in the Idaho Transportation Investment Program that will see ID-33 repaved within the next few years.

Individuals traveling in the area are encouraged to pay attention, slow down and drive with caution. Please visit the improved 511.idaho.gov for updated road information.

Road Closed…What?!

You planned a fun ski trip for the last 3 months across the other side of the state. You get ready to head out the door and check the weather for your route. You’re expecting snow but as of right now roads look fine. You have a 5 plus hour drive to get to the ski resort if all goes well. It’s 4 pm on a Thursday and you start your journey east to the mountains, if all goes well you’ll be there by 9 pm. A few hours into your drive the weather takes a little turn, the snow is coming down a little heavier, temperatures start to drop and the wind is now beginning to blow pretty hard. You start driving a little slower and about 70 miles from the ski resort your travels have now become white knuckle driving.

Only 55 miles left to go, you are a little edgy and just want to get to the resort and off the icy roads. You start on one of the local highways headed East to the mountain and about 45 minutes from the resort you drive up to a road closure on the highway. Saying some choice words at this point and thinking you can make it because you’re so close you stop behind a semi waiting the storm out at the block. You step out and realize its dang cold and windy, so you get back in your car and bundle up to stay warm. You get back out of your car and walk up to the gentleman sitting at the road block.

Dying to drive past the road block and get to the resort you ask him the infamous question…why is the road closed? The man tells him it is very low visibility, the 5 foot snow drifts are completely across the road and the crews cannot keep up with them as the wind is already at 45 mph. A little upset, you now follow-up with another question…when will the road be open? Can I just drive through, I’m sure I can make it?!

Of course the answer will always change as to when a road will be open as that is completely on a situational basis but the man tells you it will be open as soon as the weather cooperates and they can break though so maybe tomorrow night. He also proceeds to say that you cannot drive through the road block. Quite upset at this point because this totally messed up your weekend ski trip, you turn around and decide to stay in a hotel nearby to wait out the storm in hopes the road will open soon. Instead of driving passed the road block you make a wise choice to wait it out.

Has this scenario ever happened to you before where you drove up to a road closure due to the weather? If you live in Idaho, it most likely has happened to quite a few of you. It’s frustrating, it’s inconvenient and trust us when we say we totally understand!

Many travelers wonder why we close roads during the winter weather season…There’s many reasons actually! In severe weather road conditions our number 1 reason is low-visibility. ITD crews make numerous passes on our roadways and if they cannot see well they determine it is unsafe for motorists. Secondly, if the wind is blowing too hard then the snow drifts become uncontrollable. Once the snow drifts become unmanageable and the crews cannot keep up with them, this is also an indicator to close a road.  Some other reasons would be severe black ice on the roadways and heavy snowfall that is impassable. Also, in the mountain passes typically the road might be closed due to avalanches.

When crews close a road, it is closed for a good reason…to keep motorists safe! ITD and ISP do not like to close roads due to the weather, we would prefer keep roads open to keep traffic flowing but that is not the case all of the time. Here’s some food for thought…when coming up to a road block and you get the urge to drive past it and continue on know that per Idaho Code 19-623 it is up to a $300 fine, a possible misdemeanor and possible imprisonment in county jail.

So when you drive up to a road block next time, we recommend to simply turn back and stay in a safe place until the road becomes open again. Our #1 goal is safety for the travelling public and ourselves!

Roads will only close for you and your family’s safety and we want to create the safest travel possible. Be sure to drive for the conditions, plan ahead, be prepared, stay engaged, and visit 511.idaho.gov before you go for current road updates. Dont forget to check out ITD’s road closure video!