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.

Districts come together to patch Interstate bridge

Blackfoot Bridge Repairs

Months of preparation with multiple delays and last minute changes, the I-15 Blackfoot bridge was finally able to get repaired. After years of temporary patches to fill in potholes and disintegrating concrete, crews were able to come together as one big team to help fix the bridge and pulled off one of the biggest traffic control plans ITD has ever done internally.

This project involved many tasks. Of those tasks crews had to sandblast and resurface the bridge deck, replaced guardrail and completed other much needed shoulder work. This repair project was intended to temporary fix the bridge until we are able to begin a full bridge deck rehab project planned in the summer of 2020.

From October 7 – 9 crews shut down north bound I-15 and from October 15 – 17 south bound I-15 was temporarily shut down. With the intent to utilize all 3 days on each side of the interstate, crews worked diligently and fluidly to complete the project 1 day early on each side. Completing this project early on each side was no easy task but crews made it happen and it couldn’t have gone any smoother.

Originally planned for September, the bridgework had been delayed a few times due to project complications and local concerns. After working with the community and local politicians regarding the bridgework and road closures, ITD crews were able to work around the holidays and harvest. In working with the community so closely and openly, the project was incredibly successful and well received by many.

As numerous districts and crews from all over came out to help, the traffic control was also a key part to the success of this project. Spear heading the traffic control plans, D5 Blackfoot TTO’s Jared Loosli & Rocky Messick worked with numerous people and pulled off one of the largest traffic control jobs done internally throughout the state.

There was close to 10 miles of traffic control setup with crossovers, road closures barricades and numerous flaggers. The crews set the speed limit to 55 mph and with the help of ISP playing a huge role in transitioning and patrolling travelers, the project did not have any crashes…a few close calls but no crashes!

Crews provided 24hr coverage while traffic control was in effect. In closing each side of the interstate down and having such great traffic control, not only were crews able to get in and done with the project quicker but it was significantly safer. By doing this our crews felt safe and gave them the extra confidence that we (ITD) has their back to keep them safe.

As this project ended as a huge success, there was a little bit of a learning curve for the guys to take back for future projects. Learning with even a speed of 55mph to use bigger basses for the candlesticks so they don’t blow over as much and also to adjust exit ramps for the southbound for an easier and clearer transition for drivers.

“It was impressive to see the success of taking one project, bringing in so many people from different areas and working to well together”, said Jared Loosli, “It just goes to show that we can do big things if we’re asked to do big things, we can make it happen!”

ITD hosts media event to promote safety around response vehicles, snow plows

Winter Safety Media Event

IDAHO FALLS –  The “Move Over” law was expanded on July 1 to include protections for responders to a roadside emergency, such as highway workers. With slick winter driving conditions rapidly approaching, the local Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) office is hosting a media event Wednesday to encourage safe driving around highway vehicles, including snow plows.

Event details are listed below:

Event Information:

When: Wednesday, October 30, 10 – 11 a.m.

Where: 1540 Foote Drive, Idaho Falls, ID 83402

ITD will have a highway maintenance snow plow driver, a Port of Entry officer and an Idaho State Police trooper available to talk to reporters about the best way to stay safe when encountering highway response vehicles and snow plows.

Vehicles pass by ITD workers and ISP troopers every day on state highways or the interstate at 60-80 mph or more. The sudden gush of air from the passing motorist or the rocking of the ITD vehicle as a semi passes by is a sober reminder that death or serious injury may only be feet away.

ITD has included this new webpage under the Travel section of the website devoted to the “Move Over” law expansion.

Each year, the transportation department organizes a winter safety campaign that offers a variety of information and tips on being prepared for winter conditions. The campaign is called “Idaho Ready.” Additional information can be found at: https://itd.idaho.gov/road-mtce/.

UPDATE: Southbound I-15 traffic will be routed around Rose Road Interchange (Exit 98) at night Sept. 19-20

POCATELLO – The Idaho Transportation Department will direct all traffic on southbound I-15 to use Exit 98 on the nights of Sept. 19-20 during construction at the Rose Road Interchange.

A detour will be in effect from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. both nights. All traffic on southbound I-15 will be directed to use the off-ramp at Exit 98, and then to use the southbound on-ramp at Exit 98 to continue on I-15. All Exit 98 ramps and Rose Road will remain open.

The nighttime restrictions will allow contractors to demolish the southbound side of the old Rose Road Bridge over I-15. In early October, the contractor will demolish the northbound side.

This work is a part of a project to reconstruct the interchange at Rose Road (Exit 98) on Interstate 15. The interchange is expected to open later this year with additional construction activities to be completed in spring 2020.

More information about the $10.8 million I-15, Rose Road Interchange project is available at itdprojects.org/rose. Citizens may sign up for email updates by texting INTERSTATE 15 to 22828 or emailing I-15construction@itd.idaho.gov.

UPDATE: ITD initiates efforts to make safety improvements to ID-47 and US-20 through the city of Ashton

ASHTON – Following a speed study of traffic on US-20 through the city of Ashton, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is recommending several safety improvements. This will include installing flashing yellow lights, school zone signs and reducing speeds while school is in session.

ITD has already made several safety improvements at the intersection of ID-47 and US-20. ITD crews have installed a flashing “stop ahead” warning sign, a flashing stop sign and rumble strips to alert drivers approaching the intersection on ID-47.

After conducting and finalizing the engineering analysis for US-20 through Ashton, ITD has determined the speed limit should only drop to 35 mph during transition times for school. During the rest of the day, the speed will remain at 45 mph.

ITD must be consistent statewide and ensure speed limits are set according to Idaho law.

In 2012, the Idaho Legislature passed HB619 directing ITD and the Idaho Transportation Board to set speed limits on state highways within city limits. The legislation says, in part, “In establishing speed limits within city limits, ITD must do an investigation and base posted speeds on sound traffic engineering safety standards.”

Nationwide, traffic analyses for speed limits include the determination of the 85th percentile. This means traffic data is collected to determine what speed the majority of drivers are comfortable traveling.

“When speed limits are not set at the speed drivers are traveling, there is a greater chance for speed variance between vehicles,” said ITD Eastern Idaho Engineering Manager Wade Allen. “Reducing the speed limit below the 85th percentile speed can result in conditions that are unsafe.”

The US-20 speed study in Ashton included a thorough analysis of crash rate, traffic volumes, road condition, access points, number of lanes, bicycle/pedestrian use and roadside development along US-20 through the city of Ashton.

ITD is committed to make additional safety improvements to the intersection, including installing flashing lights on speed limit reduction (65 mph to 45 mph) signs, and installing dynamic “Your Speed” signs for southbound traffic (northbound sign already exists).

ITD also has a future project to add a signal light at the intersection of US-20 and ID-47, which is currently scheduled for Fiscal Year 2023.

For more information, please click on the following links to learn more about how ITD sets speed limits and to see the ITD Speed Limit brochure.

ITD works with the city and Fremont County to make safety improvements to ID-47 and US-20 through Ashton

ASHTON – Through Aug. 30, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) will be making safety improvements to the intersection of Idaho Highway 47 and US-20 through the city of Ashton.

Crews will install a flashing stoplight on ID-47 at the intersection, install rumble strips to alert drivers approaching the intersection, and the department will be reducing the speed limit on US-20 through Ashton from 45 mph to 35 mph. Future safety plans for the area include installing flashing school zone warning signs on US-20 through the city.

ITD first programmed a traffic signal at the intersection of US-20 and ID-47 at the request of the city. It was pushed back from 2020 to 2023, though, due to unforeseen issues during project design. Primary among those issues, the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) considers the Frostop Root Beer Sign(picture from East Idaho News) at that location to be historic, so ITD has been working directly with SHPO to ensure that impacts are mitigated as much as possible.

The eventual project is estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Crews to pave asphalt overlays on ID-47 beginning Tuesday, August 6

ASHTON – Starting Tuesday, August 6, Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) maintenance crews will lay intermittent asphalt overlays on Idaho Highway 47 between Marysville and Warm River to extend the life of the roadway. The project is expected to finish by Thursday, August 15.

Flaggers will be present and detour traffic as needed until construction is completed. Traffic delays could be up to an hour wait, so motorists are encouraged to consider taking an alternate route.

Travelers are advised to please watch for and follow traffic detour signs, drive safely and check  511.idaho.gov for current construction and traveler information.

ITD crews to pave asphalt on ID-33 between Teton and Newdale on Wednesday (July 31)

NEWDALE – On Wednesday, July 31, Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) maintenance crews will lay about two-miles of asphalt pavement on Idaho Highway 33 between Teton and Newdale.

During this one-day project, crews will detour traffic between 3rd Street and 8000 W. until construction is completed.

Travelers are advised to please watch for and follow traffic detour signs, drive safe and check 511.idaho.govfor current construction and traveler information.

Traffic switched to the westbound side of the Lorenzo Bridge beginning today

REXBURG – Traffic will be switched to the westbound lanes beginning today (Wednesday, July 24) on the US-20 Lorenzo Bridge in Madison County. The bridge rehabilitation is expected to be completed this fall.

The off- and on-ramps of Exit 325 will remain open to traffic during the project, except for the eastbound on-ramp to Rexburg. Motorists will not be able to enter US-20 eastbound toward Rexburg from the Exit 325 interchange and will instead need to detour through Rigby at the Exit 322 on-ramp or use an alternate route.

“This rehabilitation will entail resurfacing of the bridge deck, replacing the guardrail, improving the bridge approaches and finishing with new pavement,” said ITD Project Manager Eli Robinson.

Drivers can expect traffic delays for the duration of the project. Reduced speed limits will be in effect and traffic will be shifted over periodically to single-lane, two-way traffic.

I-15 pavement preservation from Dubois to Montana state line starts today

RIGBY – Construction is expected to begin today (Monday, July 22) on a 29-mile stretch of Interstate 15 from milepost 167 north of the Dubois Interchange to the Montana state line. Crews will add a surface treatment to the northbound and southbound lanes of I-15 to extend the life of the pavement.

Motorists should expect single lane traffic with lane closures of no more than four miles throughout the project. Interchange ramps will temporarily close for no more than one day at a time. Crews will work Monday through Friday, finishing in late September. Although weekend work is not expected, some Saturday work may occur in order to adhere to the overall project timeline.

View map of the project area.

Motorists are advised to check 511.idaho.gov for roadwork updates.