Tin Cup Beaver Dam Restoration project benefits wildlife and ITD

POCATELLO – If Ruffles have ridges, what do riffles have? Beavers, it turns out.

When a few beaver dams on Tin Cup Creek in southeast Idaho started backing up water last fall at a culvert on Idaho Highway 34 and threatening to undermine the road, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) was faced with the complication of adding underwater bridge inspections for that remote site.

Instead, they added riffles — really good riffles. ITD constructed the riffles (rocky or shallow parts of a rough-water stream or river) to entice the beavers to build. That’s exactly what they did.

ITD crews first removed three beaver dams downstream of the culvert to lower the water level at the crossing. They also removed one dam just upstream of the structure, which lowered the stream channel and de-watered adjacent wetlands in a stretch of the creek.

In collaboration with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, ITD crews repaired the stream by building two in-stream rock riffles over two days in mid-July. The result was better than what Idaho Dept. of Fish & Game (IDFG) wildlife fisheries biologist Corey Lyman expected.

The photo above shows Mark Porter (ITD District 5 Maintenance Operations) operating a Track Machine while building a riffle. The photo below, taken Aug. 8, shows a beaver dam already built on the new riffles.

The work not only stabilized the channel and protected the culvert, but also permanently raised the creek bottom, which had eroded down enough to disconnect the water from the creek banks and willow-filled floodplain. Streambed work also improved habitat for fish and for all wildlife living in the area.

“Without water reaching the river banks, the streamside wetlands were drying up and dying, and we were losing the habitat,” explained D5 Sr. Environmental Planner Alissa Salmore. “We essentially re-watered the area.”

The project also allowed members of ITD’s Pocatello, Soda Springs/Wayan, and Montpelier Maintenance sheds to gain experience in stream restoration work. This added to their skill set and reinforced environmental awareness.

Plus, it has already been successful.

“The fish were moving into the dams and claiming territory as we were cleaning up and leaving the project,” said Mark Porter of District 5 Maintenance Operations.

Porter also said that beavers have already begun building over the riffles, which was exactly the intent.

Look up: ITD finds $320k in annual savings in overhead sign inspections

Overhead Sign Inspection

BOISE – The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) recently found significant savings, and it was just overhead.

There are nearly 2,000 overhead sign structures on the state highway system, and more than a quarter of them are inspected each year. Finding even a slight savings in the per-unit cost can result in a significant overall savings, and that’s just what the ITD Bridge Asset Management team has done.

“In the 2005 contract, we paid an average of around $1,200 per structure,” said Bridge Asset Engineer Jake Legler. “In our most recent contract (April 2017), we are paying an average of $400 per structure. We are inspecting an average of 500 structures per year. This equates to a savings of nearly $320,000 per year.”Innovate ITD Logo

An overhead structures inspection program resumed in 2016 after an initial round of safety inspections were conducted from 2005-2007. The new inspection program called on sign-structure inspection experts Collins Engineers. National bridge inspection software also had to be modified to accommodate the nation’s only element-level inspections of overhead structures.

“Our bridge inspection is done at the element level, which means each structural element is assigned a condition rating. We set up the overhead structures inspection program to be at the element level so that it was consistent with our bridge inspection program. We used nationally defined element numbers for overhead structures in order to be consistent with other states if they ever adopt an element-level sign inspection program.”

The result goes beyond monetary savings and efficiency, to enhancing safety for travelers on Idaho’s 12,000-mile state highway system. The idea came through ITD’s innovation program earlier this year.

“In addition to the safety improvements on the structures themselves, we were able to employ some innovative inspection and traffic-control techniques, like using high-powered binoculars and climbing structures rather than closing lanes,” Legler explained.

“That not only made it safer for our workers and required no lane closures, but it also brought the inspection costs down significantly,” he added.

Pilot program offers job training for heavy construction equipment

Excavator

Heavy equipment operators – those who man excavators, graders, and dozers –  are going the way of welder, pipe fitters, carpenters and other trades jobs; the demand for work is high but there are too few people skilled enough to do it.

Russ Rivera, a compliance officer with the Office of Civil Rights had an idea on how to change that. He secured federal grants to fund a three and a half week crash course to train heavy equipment operators.

Watch the video below for the full story.

ITD making plans for a safe and enjoyable eclipse Aug. 21

In three weeks, thousands of people from around the world are expected to hit the road in Idaho to see the Great American Eclipse. As Idahoans and visitors make their way toward their viewing destination, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) reminds drivers there are a few things to keep in mind to have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Before, during and after the event, the department will maintain normal traffic patterns and will NOT change any lane directions – for example, lanes that are typically northbound will remain northbound throughout the eclipse weekend.

Traffic is expected to increase around prime viewing areas in the path of totality. ITD is taking steps to keep traffic moving in those areas during the eclipse – construction and maintenance projects will be suspended where possible, response teams will be deployed to assist disabled vehicles, and digital message boards provide drivers with traffic information.

Rest areas will remain open to the public but overnight camping will not be allowed. Drivers are also asked not to park on the roadway, shoulders, or emergency turnouts during the eclipse.

Heavy congestion and delays are expected in the days around the eclipse – please be patient — for the latest road conditions, visit 511.idaho.gov.

Fire season closing south-central Idaho roads

wildfire damaged sign

It’s been a busy couple weeks; fire season is officially here. It started as soon as a human-caused fire closed Interstate 84 near Glenns Ferry on June 5. As soon as winter snows melted and spring floods subsided, summer dryness hit the lowlands.

The past two weeks has seen a series of small brush fires grow out of control and close several routes throughout southern Idaho – I-84 near the Utah border for several hours, U.S. 26 on two occasions between Bliss and Shoshone, Idaho Highway 75 north of Shoshone, as well as U.S. 93 and Idaho Highway 24 near Shoshone.

Truck coated in retardant
This ITD truck, used to close U.S. 93 at the south entrance to Shoshone during the Antelope Fire on July 10, got coated in fire retardant by an aerial tanker.

The latest, the Antelope Fire, started last Sunday around 6:30 p.m. It originally started off U.S. 26, between Shoshone and Gooding, following a lightning strike in the sagebrush desert of western Lincoln County. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resources struggled to gain control through the night, due to high winds and high temperatures. The fire jumped U.S. 26 several times.

Around 10 a.m. Monday, the south side of the fire kicked up and made a push on Shoshone.

“The winds were burning at approximately 25 mph, with even higher gusts,” said BLM Fire Information Officer Kelsey Brizendine. “This caused the fire to make a push at 93, which, thanks to our great partners at ITD, was closed down. This closure remained in effect for several hours, giving firefighters the space they needed, as well as keeping the public safe.”

The Antelope Fire closed U.S. 93 just before noon, pushed across the highway, closed Idaho 24 at about 1 p.m. and threatened buildings near Shoshone. The fire was all but out on Tuesday morning, but ended up at burning about 29,493 acres.

“This is going to be a busy year,” Brizendine added. “The fuel is thick, dry and the wind makes things hard.”

Many areas of Idaho are already under high fire danger due to fuel loads and dry conditions. Many of the initial fires that have affected southern Idaho highways have been human caused — only the Antelope Fire was from lightning, giving extra importance to the impact residents and road users have on the travel and public safety.

The BLM reminds the public that whether you are recreating or traveling on the highways or back roads, keep fire prevention in mind and follow these fire prevention tips:

On the road:
· Keep tires properly inflated.
· Grease your wheel bearings.
· Tie up trailer safety chains.
· Do not drive or park in tall, dry grass.

At the campground:
· Have a shovel, bucket, and water nearby.
· Make sure your campfire is completely out. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

Target Shooting:
· Check weather conditions. Hot + Dry + Wind = Quick-Spreading Wildfires
· Choose a shooting area that is clear of dry grass/vegetation and rocks.
· Always bring water, a fire extinguisher and a shovel.
· Discharging a firearm using incendiary, steel core or tracer ammunition is prohibited on BLM lands from May to October 20.
· Burning, igniting or causing to burn explosive material, including exploding targets is prohibited on BLM lands from May to October 20.

ITD performance, innovation chronicled by United Kingdom media

Dramatically improved performance benefiting the road user has raised the profile of the Idaho Transportation Department nationally, and beyond. The article linked below comes from Traffic Technology International, a media outlet from the United Kingdom:

Read Article

ITD is actually mentioned twice in the magazine — there is a second article, about Weigh-In-Motion technology, that runs from pages 38-42.

 

 

 

More than decade later, ITD wetland of flowers, animals and grasses flourishing in tiny Genesee

D2 Wetlands

What was once a wind-blown wheat field near the small Idaho town of Genesee is now an environmental success story. A dozen years later, ITD has created a thriving, marshy wetlands area where one never existed before.

Genesee, a town of fewer than 1,000 folks, is a quiet community resting in the rolling hills and prairie that dominate Idaho’s Palouse country, midway between Moscow and Lewiston. When road construction on U.S. 95 in the spring of 2005 from the top of Lewiston Hill to Genesee required using some land designated as wetlands, ITD spearheaded a mitigation project to construct wetlands as compensation.

The project became known as “Cow Creek Wetland,” located along a half-mile of Cow Creek in Latah County next to Genesee between two county roads — Morscheck and Kreier

ITD eventually created almost 11.5 acres of wetland and riparian area to mitigate for area impacted by the highway project, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Construction started in 2005, as there were wells drilled at each corner of the area to provide water for the irrigation system and help plants get established. Excavation, irrigation system and initial plantings were completed that year. Nearly 24,000 containerized trees and shrubs were part of the mitigation plan. In addition, there were almost 35,000 plugs of wetland grasses, rushes, sedges, and more planted in 2005.

D2 Wetlands Before After
A before-and-after shot shows how this landscape has been transformed.

Then came the winter of 2005/2006, when roughly 90 percent of those wetland plugs were lost due to frost heaves. So, planners returned to the drawing board.

Spring of 2006, wetland areas were broadcast-seeded to compensate for the loss that first winter. In addition to seeding and planting, trees removed during the project were placed in the wetland as habitat snags, and in November of 2007 an additional 2,500 containerized plants were planted as warranty to replace trees and shrubs that had died.

The irrigation system, installed to provide watering as the vegetation got established, was turned off in 2008 to encourage plants to acclimate to their natural conditions.

By August of 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stamped the site as completed.Many Genesee residents, who also use it for bird watching, today use the Cow Creek Wetland as a walking trail.

Most impressively, it is used as a wetland ecology classroom by the local high school.

ITD unveils new highway signs to honor Vietnam veterans

Travelers along Interstate 84 in Idaho can now see reminders of the sacrifice made by Idaho men and women who served in Vietnam more than 40 years ago. The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is installing the new road signs along I-84, which has been officially designated as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.

The new 4’ x 8’ signs will replace smaller signs placed earlier along the interstate through a partnership between ITD and veterans groups. Eight signs will be installed along I-84 between the borders with Oregon and Utah.

In 2014, the Idaho Legislature made the designation in honor of more than 44,000 Idahoans who served in the war. Two hundred and seventeen of those soldiers were killed in combat, more than 1,000 Idaho heroes were wounded, and eight are still unaccounted for and considered missing in action.

“Idaho has a great history of service to our country,” said ITD Chief Operating Officer Travis McGrath. “These new signs allow us to show our appreciation for those men and women who stood up to protect our freedom.”

Idaho Transportation Board moves forward on Northgate Interchange (Siphon Road) project

Northgate Interchange Plan

BOISE – The Idaho Transportation Board unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that allows the Idaho Transportation Department to move forward with an agreement to develop a public private partnership to build the Northgate Interchange (Siphon Road) in Bannock County.

The overall project will connect parts of north Pocatello and Chubbuck to Interstate 15 near Siphon Road. Under the agreement, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) would administer the construction of the interchange portion of project and the other partners would construct connecting road infrastructure.

The partnership consists of Millennial Development, city of Chubbuck, city of Pocatello, Bannock County, Pocatello Development Authority and ITD.

“This interchange presents a unique opportunity to work closely with the private sector and other local agencies,” said Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead. “We understand why local residents are excited about this project. We think it will increase mobility and bring greater economic opportunity for the community.”

As part of the agreement, ITD and Millennial Development will share costs of building the $8.4 million interchange. The other partners will share the costs of building connecting infrastructure.

The agreement calls for the Millennial Development to pay $3.4 million up front and then ITD would contribute $5 million for the construction of the interchange.

ITD gearing up for eclipse chasers

Preparations at ITD Headquarters and in the districts are well underway for the 2017 total solar eclipse.

Officials throughout the department are planning for the event, coordinating with state and local governments and other community leaders on preparations.

ITD wants to make viewing of the solar eclipse in Idaho a safe and enjoyable experience for residents and visitors alike by keeping highways open and traffic flowing.

In case you haven’t heard, the eclipse is a big deal. The moon will fully obscure the sun for more than two minutes, completely shadowing a narrow band of the lower 48 for the first time since 1979.

Southern Idaho lies in the center of that band, which is referred to as the “Path of Totality.” The moon’s umbra shadow will pass over the countryside through this band.

ITD is developing an incident-response plan, identifying locations that may become bottlenecks, and developing traffic-control plans. Officials tentatively anticipate they may suspend highway construction Friday through Wednesday.

Make your plans – and support ITD in making its preparations. The agency aims to provide the level of service expected of the best transportation department in the country.

To catch the excitement of this major celestial event, see the projected path of the shadow as it passes over Idaho https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4515.

The state’s typically sunny August weather means there is a good chance there will be few, if any, clouds in the sky when the eclipse occurs.

The point isn’t lost on eclipse chasers, who have booked up motels, campgrounds and even homes in the region to view the “totality.”

They also like the fact that Idaho is situated at a high altitude, closer to the sky than many parts of the country. Estimates are for tens and even hundreds of thousands of people to descend on Idaho — some projections put the migration at more than one million.

The event begins in the late morning of August. 21 in Weiser and ends in the early afternoon in Driggs. Other towns in the center of the path are Mackay, Mud Lake, Rigby, Rexburg and Victor. Area residents should buckle up.

If you unavailable, uninterested or have other plans August 21 and intend to catch the next total solar eclipse in Idaho, prepare to wait for 152 years.