Michael Johnson named new Idaho State Bridge Engineer

Longtime ITD Bridge employee Michael Johnson was named as the new State Bridge Engineer effective Christmas Day 2022. He replaces Matt Farrar in the position, who retired in October after 25 years in the job and 36 years overall at the department.

Johnson most recently served as a Design Group Leader in the Bridge Section.  He graduated from Idaho State University in 1991, then began accumulating over 30 years of bridge-design experience. He started his career in ITD’s Engineer-in-Training program, before joining the Bridge Section in April 1992.  As an EIT, Johnson spent two years in District 3, six months in HQ Materials, and the remaining time in the Bridge Section.

Johnson then took a hiatus from ITD to lead a bridge section for a consulting firm (HDR) from 2003 until July 2018.  He returned to ITD a month later to get more opportunities to design bridges in Idaho and spend more time with his wife, Kim.

“I needed a better work/life balance,” Johnson explained.

He and Kim have two grown sons — Zak (an engineer for ITD in District 5) and Parker. In addition to working as an engineer, he served 12 years in the U.S. Army reserves (1990-2002), rising to the rank of Captain, and has coached high school football for the last 13 years.  He has been coaching football at Nampa Christian High School since 2010, and is currently the varsity Special Teams Coordinator, Receivers Coach, and assistant the Offensive Coach.

“With my new position, I may need to give up some of those duties, but I am fortunate to be able to continue coaching,” Johnson explained.

Mike’s hobbies include mountain biking, running, coaching, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his family.

Johnson answered a few questions for this article:

Q: What are the goals and challenges you anticipate for this new position?
A: Goals:

“The ITD Bridge Section Staff is excellent, and I am honored to be a part of this team.  I want to give the staff the opportunity to work on the projects that interest them. We have some exciting project opportunities coming up in the next few years, including the Rainbow Bridge replacement. Giving our section the opportunity to work on this project and other high profile projects is exciting to me.

I also want to continue to integrate the Bridge Design with the Bridge Asset Management Section. In the past, these sections have worked mostly independently, even though these sections are both in Bridge. Over the past few years, we have been cross training staff to give the staff well rounded experience. Load-rating staff has been given the opportunity to design bridge projects, and design staff has been helping with load ratings. I want to get to the point where staff can seamlessly help the other group if there is a need.

Matt was well-known in the national bridge community — I want to continue ITD’s presence. I have been fortunate to gain important contacts with some of the leaders in the bridge industry through my work on a AASHTOWare Task Force and working with AASHTO Committee of Bridges and Structures.  I want to continue to participate on the national level, as well as giving other ITD Bridge staff the same opportunities to work on national committees.”

Challenges:
“I have big shoes to fill. Matt Farrar has been the State Bridge Engineer for over 25 years.  His experience will be missed. He was well-known throughout the state and national bridge engineering community.  Changing the face of ITD Bridge Section from Matt Farrar to Mike Johnson may take time.”

Johnson said the opportunity to help shape a new ITD Bridge section drove him to apply for the job.

Q: What made you want to tackle this new job?
A: “I enjoy mentoring younger staff. As the State Bridge Engineer, I will be in a position to provide mentorship to young engineers and technicians, and provide opportunities and resources for them to grow and succeed.

Also, this position gives me the opportunity to influence the direction of the bridge industry in Idaho and nationwide.“

ITD Chief Highway Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher, who will supervise Johnson’s new position, is also excited about the announcement.

“I’m excited to welcome Mike to his new role as State Bridge Engineer. Mike started his career with ITD over 30 years ago, when he was a part of ITD’s Engineer in Training program alongside (Division of Highways Construction & Operations Administrator) Dave Kuisti and I.  He then worked as a consulting engineer for a number of years before returning to ITD.  We are fortunate to have Mike on our team, and I’m confident that Idaho will continue to deliver a high quality bridge program under his leadership.”

Idaho Serves Military Veterans Through CDL Waiver

The Idaho Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is working to bring more veterans and military members into the commercial trucking industry. Idaho offers two forms of commercial driver’s license (CDL) testing waivers for people with experience driving commercial vehicles in the military.

In the past, applicants needed to print and fill out the forms by hand. In late 2021, DMV team members Heather Perkins, John Barsness, and Caleb Forrey decided to transition to fillable forms to improve customer service. The fillable forms are easier on the applicant and faster to review because the fields are typed rather than handwritten.

Now in 2023, with streamlined forms, the DMV has launched new ways to spread the word about the program. The DMV is promoting military CDL waivers with social-media posts and a new poster that will be distributed to county DMV offices, ports of entry, and military and national guard bases.

Gov. Little’s transportation priorities in State of the State address

Governor Brad Little gave his State of the State address Monday (Jan. 9, 2023), presenting his proposed budget, which includes a transportation focus on Making Generational Investments in Critical Infrastructure.

Link to entire State of the State address

In recent years, Governor Little and the Idaho Legislature have championed investments in critical infrastructure without raising taxes or fees. Efforts have focused on bonding for new road capacity and addressing the deferred maintenance backlog facing state and local roads. The Governor’s budget builds off these previous investments, and:

  • Invests $96.8 million to fully fund the known ongoing transportation safety and capacity gap. This will make Idaho roads safer for drivers with capacity enhancements and safety features like widened and realigned roadways and turn lanes.
  • Adds $200 million as the second tranche of an effort to improve local system bridges, $35 million to improve airports throughout the state, and $10 million for pedestrian and safety projects. This investment will improve approximately one-third of deficient local bridges to improve safety for all Idahoans.
  • Reserves $100 million for economically significant local transportation projects that are beyond the reach of local government finances.
  • Pays off all callable debt in the GARVEE transportation bond program for the 2014 bond series ($37.5 million), averting interest and freeing up additional ongoing transportation funding.

 

Terry Jacobsen retires after record-breaking 64 years of Idaho state service

District 5’s Carl “Terry” Jacobsen retired Nov. 16. 2022 after a record-breaking 64 years of service to the State of Idaho, all of it in Southeast Idaho and almost all of it in the D5 Lab. The lab was renamed in his honor several years ago when he hit the 60-year milestone, at which point he was already the all-time record-holder for years of public service in Idaho.

Then-Governor Butch Otter proclaimed it  “Terry Jacobsen Day” throughout the state to mark the occasion in July 2018.

Most folks retire after 30 years or so of service. By that measure, Terry could have capped his career in the late 80’s, before the internet or cell phones even existed beyond the idea stage for some future billionaires working in their garage or dorm room.

Instead, he added another 30 years to his career!

Jacobsen actually started in April of 1958, but the clock didn’t officially start ticking until that summer. His first job was on Interstate 15 between Chubbuck Road and Fort Hall in the late 1950’s when the interstate was first being constructed. He joined the D5 Lab in 1984 and spent almost 40 years there.

Terry’s accomplishment is amazing, and we have been privileged to watch an incredible demonstration of service and loyalty.

“Terry has been a stalwart at ITD,” said D5 District Engineer Todd Hubbard. “He has seen a lot of things happen since he started with the department in April of 1958. He helped build the Interstate. Anybody that knew Terry knew that he was committed to his job. After 64 years and almost 134,000 hours of service, we say ‘thank you, Terry for a job well done!'”

Longtime public servant Dwight Horsch steps away from Idaho Transportation Board

Dwight Horsch, who came to the Idaho Transportation Board in June 2011 and continued his service to the public for more than a decade, attended his final meeting as District 5’s representative to the board on Dec. 15, 2022.

Pictured above, from left to right: Chief Deputy/Chief Operations Officer Dan McElhinney, D4 District Engineer Jesse Barrus, D3 District Engineer Caleb Lakey, D5 District Engineer Todd Hubbard, Horsch, ITD Director Scott Stokes, and State Highway Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher celebrate Dwight’s 12 years of service on the Idaho Transportation Board.

“I want to sincerely thank Dwight for his years of dedicated service to the citizens of Idaho,” said Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Bill Moad. “It has been a privilege to work with him — his service, especially to those in southeastern Idaho where he has been representative this past decade, has been exemplary.”

Horsch helped mentor Moad when he first became chairman of the transportation board several years ago. “He reminded me that the small rural communities are equally as important as the metropolitan areas. The key is balancing the needs of the entire state to best serve all the citizens.”

When Horsch was appointed to the board (succeeding Neil Miller) in June 2011 by former Gov. Otter and confirmed by the Senate, his background included three terms in the House and a term in the Senate in his career with the Idaho Legislature. When those eight years finished, he returned to eastern Idaho and to farming.

As a lifelong farmer, Horsch understands the vital role transportation plays in Idaho’s economy. Without a good highway system, moving agricultural products to market would be severely impacted. Beyond the farm-to-market dynamic, transportation plays such a central role in everyday life that it is difficult to overestimate its importance. Whether its going to the store, to school, to work, or to recreate, roads and bridges are integral to the entire process. The transportation system is multi-modal as well, with freight and aviation interests also serving as part of the conversation.

Horsch is a veteran of the Idaho Air National Guard, attended the University of Idaho and later earned his degree in agribusiness from Kansas State University.

Horsch looks fondly on his dozen years on the board:

Highlights

  • I was fortunate to work with board members and ITD staff who are some of the brightest, most dedicated, energetic, creative minds in our state and in the nation.
  • When I first got on the board, the credibility level of the department was quite low with the Governor, legislature and the public in general. In my two terms, I witnessed a great reversal of that situation.
  • Due to this positive change, ITD received some terrific support and funding. Now some projects are being designed, bid and built that were pipe dreams 12 years ago.

Goals 

  • When I was appointed by Governor Otter, he asked me to do what I could, working with fellow board members and leadership staff, to change the department’s image.  Whatever part I played in that effort, it was wonderful to see it happen.
  • I honestly felt, during my legislative career and as an Idaho Transportation Board member, that one of the most conservative actions we could do was to build and maintain a very good transportation infrastructure. With the support of the legislature and both governors Otter and Little, that’s what’s happening. Not all of my wishes for the system are complete, but a great start is underway.
  • It was a great pleasure, as chairman of the subcommittee, to see the establishment of 129,000-pound truckload routes throughout Idaho.  It took time and a great deal of input from road industry representatives, but we got it done, to the benefit of all.

To My Replacement

  • I am confident that my replacement will quickly realize they can trust the wisdom of fellow board members and staff leadership.
  • Take time to learn all the systems before diving in too deep. There is so much to learn.  Orientation is helpful, but the entire department makeup is so all-encompassing that it takes time to let it all soak in.  Even in my last year, I found myself having to rely upon others to help me understand the complexities and attain faith in some issues.

And Now For Some Fun

  • Kathy and I have rented out most of our farmland. I have retained some to keep my hand in the profession I have loved and to stay active. We are already making plans for traveling, camping and fishing. Our daughters, Holly and Tiffany, became the competent adults they are in part from growing up as farm kids, but they have found their own paths away from agriculture. My wife and I are confident that our tenants will continue to farm the land with the skill and devotion we have for the last half-century. Horsch Farms will live on. (Note: the farm is going into its 114th year, having started in 1909 by Dwight’s grandfather when he came from Germany and settled near Aberdeen, Idaho.)

What I Will Miss

  • I will fondly remember the great people I have been fortunate to meet and interact with during my tenure. Their intelligence, dedication and camaraderie will stay with me always.  They have become some of my closest friends, and I will miss being with them on a regular basis. I count my time on the board as one of the blessings of my life.

Leading Idaho funds runway improvements to St. Anthony Community Airport

Grant funds in the amount of $1.7M from Gov. Little’s Leading Idaho initiative helped repair and replace sections of badly damaged runway at the small community airport in St. Anthony in October. The funds were used in conjunction with Idaho Airport Aid Program funding to complete the runway reconstruction and eliminate a significant safety hazard.

The consultant who managed the project, T-O Engineers, worked with the City of St. Anthony to help them reconstruct their only paved runway and build a new partial parallel taxiway for additional hangar development. The existing runway pavement was rated in “poor” condition in 2021 and was projected to drop to “very poor” within the next five years. The new partial parallel was constructed to provide access to the runway for existing and future hangars as well as improve safety at the airport.

Aviation Program Manager for T-O Engineers, Jared Norton, reported that the design included utilizing a CRABS (Concrete Recycled Asphalt Base Stabilization) process on existing runway pavement that was still in good condition and could be salvaged, which reduced construction costs and time, while providing a high-strength pavement section.

The project was not without its challenges, Norton said.

“During construction, we encountered unanticipated subsurface conditions that impacted the CRABS process. T-O Engineers worked with the city and contractor Depatco to quickly modify the design and allow the project to continue moving forward on schedule. In the end, the city was able to complete the full project on time and under budget. “

The new runway will better serve the agricultural spraying needs and general aviation operations at the small East Idaho airport.

“The Division of Aeronautics is honored to have the ability to collaborate with airport sponsors to ensure the safety and economic viability of the statewide aviation system,” said Aero’s Airport Planning Manager Jennifer Schildgen (pictured  left). “It is wonderful to see project completion and the amazing work being done through partnerships that helps the communities. It is one of the reasons I look forward to work every day.”

Idaho wins national workforce award for ICONIC effort

BOISE – Idaho’s Workforce Development program, spearheaded by ITD’s Civil Rights section, recently won a national award for the effort from the U.S. DOT’s Federal Highway Administration. Idaho was one of only three states to win the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) award. Idaho’s award was the Idaho Career Opportunities – Next in Construction (ICONIC) training program, held in multiple locations in the Gem State in 2022.

The award was given Oct. 23 during the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) conference in Orlando, Florida.

The ICONIC program was developed to meet a specific need: Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the country and has been for several years. This growth has brought a need to rapidly update and improve infrastructure, but the state faced the challenge of finding qualified labor to perform the work. Specifically, skilled heavy equipment operators, carpenters, truck drivers, and concrete/cement masons.

To address the problem, ITD’s Office of Civil Rights, in partnership with the Idaho Workforce Development Council, Idaho Associated General Contractors, Idaho Native American Tribes, Baker Technical Institute, College of Eastern Idaho, and local highway construction contractors, implemented the ICONIC program.

“This program could not have been successful without established partnerships,” ITD Civil Rights Manager Jessika Phillips said.

Although the program has been in existence for a few years, the 2022 version was different in that courses were offered in each corner of the state (Idaho Falls in March/April, Boise in April/May & Coeur d’Alene in June/July). Having multiple locations allowed students to stay close to home and their families during training.  The 2022 program also added hands-on training in multiple trades: heavy equipment operating and concrete cement masonry.

One of the most successful participant locations in 2022 was the ICONIC program delivered to residents in Idaho Falls between March 21 and April 22. Over five weeks and 200+ hours, students received certifications in OSHA-10, forklift, Hazardous Waste Operations Emergency Response, flagging, and first-aid/CPR during in-the-field sessions. Classroom instruction included reading blueprints, construction-applied math, confined spaces, trenching and shoring, securing loads, pre-trip and chains checks, and honing career soft skills.

Students removed, formed, poured, and finished a concrete sidewalk at the Blackfoot Rest Area in partnership with District 5 and District 6 staff. Students replaced old, cracked and damaged concrete to create a sidewalk that is now level and free of obstructions for the traveling public accessing the restroom facilities. Students also learned how to operate loaders, dozers, excavators, and skid steers utilizing simulators and getting behind-the-wheel in a land lab. 

Students networked with contractors on multiple occasions and had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills during Contractor Day. Many students have found employment this way and still work for the contractor to this day.

Fifteen students graduated from this program in 2022.

In the past, female participation has been around 10-15% and minority participation hovered around 20%. During this installment of the program, 40% of those who participated were female and 60% were minorities. Women made up only 11% of the construction industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 study, while minorities (especially non-Latino/non-Hispanics) are also vastly under-represented.

Eleven of the fifteen graduates were employed in the highway construction industry within 30 days of graduation. More than half of the students have applied to the Idaho Launch Program through the Idaho Workforce Development Council for funding to complete their Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) during the winter-shutdown period this coming fall/winter.

The future for the ICONIC program includes “continuing to build partnerships, seek funding, and grow the program to focus on additional trades within the construction industry and lead the way in equity, safety, mobility, and economic opportunity,” said Phillips.

ITD wins safety award in AASHTO President’s competition for third time since 2017, demonstrating commitment

The award was received Oct. 22, by ITD officials, pictured left to right in photo: ITD Chief Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher, D5 District Engineer Todd Hubbard, and Chief Deputy/Chief Operations Officer Dan McElhinney.

The Statewide Asset Attribute Inventory (SWAAI) program for Idaho highways, an effort spearheaded by D5’s GIS Analyst Nik Sterbentz with collaboration from ITD districts across the Gem State, received the AASHTO President’s Transportation Award in the Safety category Saturday, Oct. 22 at the group’s annual conference. Previously, the components of Idaho’s 12,300-lane-mile state highway system were not inventoried in a convenient, central system. The SWAAI not only solves the current problem, but also sets ITD on a great course for the future.

It marks the third time since 1997 that Idaho has won the safety award from AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) – the national group that oversees all state departments of transportation across the country. Since safety is one of ITD’s top priorities, the acknowledgement is especially gratifying.

“Winning this award in the Safety category is a great reflection of the constant value that safety is to each of us at ITD, and how each of us can contribute to the advancement of safety wherever it is we serve,” ITD Director Scott Stokes said. “This is who we are.”

The SWAAI program touches on several of ITD’s strategic goals, starting by saving nearly 300,000 personnel data collection hours and helping its planners identify ways to make ITD’s roads safer to drive. ITD can now fulfill many requests quickly and with much less labor, saving taxpayer dollars in the long run – an estimated $3.8 million saved in boots-on-the-ground collection costs alone.

Prior to the project, ITD lacked reliable comprehensive data inventories of key highway assets, including signs, guardrails, ADA ramps, sidewalks, and vertical clearance. Without reliable information, a data-driven approach to decision-making was frequently impossible, resulting in rushed, anecdotal, costly ad hoc solutions.

“It’s an opportunity for ITD to identify and implement numerous new, innovative practices and build on its legacy while proving its willingness to be open to revolutionary new improvements,” Sterbentz (pictured below) said about the SWAAI project.

 

To view the project, visit: https://swaai-iplan.hub.arcgis.com/

Idaho awarded $30.9M in Federal grants to modernize transportation statewide

Idaho received nearly $30.9M in grant funding August 11 from the Federal government to update, improve and modernize transportation across the Gem State.

The funding comes through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program, which helps urban and rural communities move forward on projects that modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, and intermodal transportation. The Biden-Harris Administration is using RAISE to modernize transportation and make it more affordable, increase safety and strengthen supply chains.

Idaho’s portion is part of more than $2.2B awarded nationwide by the USDOT.

Idaho’s portion includes:

  • $12,424,000 to the Idaho Transportation Department for Wood River Valley Mobility Corridor Improvements.

This project will improve transit-oriented infrastructure at four intersections with ID-75  in the Wood River Valley Mobility Corridor: Ohio Gulch Road, East Fork Road, South Broadway Run, and Elkhorn Road.  The improvements include bus pullouts, bus stops, passenger shelters, a park-n-ride, sidewalks, shared-use pathways, and shared-path tunnels/underpasses.

  • $8,457,000 to Valley Regional Transit for the State Street Premium Corridor.

This project will construct transit, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities along a six and one-half mile section of State Street/SH 44 from downtown Boise to Bogart Lane. This project will include accessible bus stops, on-route charging, real-time bus arrival displays, ticketing machines, lighting, a multi-use path, wheelchair ramps and access, and bicycle and additional street crossings.

  • $5,000,000 to the Ada County Highway District for the Access to Opportunity Planning Project.

This will plan and design 12 multimodal transportation projects. The total length of the projects is over 10.5 miles and includes filling in sidewalk gaps, signalizing crossings, implementing ADA accessible pedestrian ramps and signals, building multi-use paths and designated bike facilities, upgrading transit bus stops, and evaluating green stormwater infrastructure to prevent runoff from entering the Boise River.

  • $5,000,000 to City of Nampa for Reconnecting Accessibility and Improving Safety and Equity  

The City of Nampa will receive $5 million for this planning project which will design local and regional connections to benefit residents in the North Nampa Neighborhood. These improvements include sidewalk network expansion and modernization, shared use path construction, pedestrian pathway extension, a new pedestrian bridge, the replacement of an existing vehicular and pedestrian bridge, the modernization of two railroad underpasses, and the study of new transit services. The neighborhood has experienced over 450 crashes in 6 years, which would be reduced by this project. New public transit stops will connect residents in this underserved community to essential services, grocery stores, schools, churches, and parks. The pedestrian bridge will connect the neighborhood to a farmer’s market located on the other side of railroad tracks and will improve ADA access around assisted-living facilities.

 

The RAISE program is one of several ways communities can secure funding for projects under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s competitive grant programs.

“ITD is proud to be a sponsor of this incredible opportunity to receive a RAISE grant award for transit enhancements on the Wood River Valley Mobility Corridor,” ITD Public Transportation Manager Ron Duran said. “This grant award looks to bring a fresh perspective to transportation coordination in the state of Idaho.”

“This is a unique collaborative approach, as ITD’s Public Transportation, District 4 and TECM offices all sat at the table with Mountain Rides Transportation Authority to build the vision of this grant application,” said Duran. “This effort highlights what can be accomplished when leaders are willing to think outside the box and work together to find new ways to overcome challenges. This project will increase transportation options and system connectivity.”

 

 

Off State Street since 1961, ITD services moving to Chinden Campus

BOISE – After 61 years at the State Street location, the Idaho Transportation Department is moving to a new location on Chinden Boulevard. By Thursday (June 16), all departmental public services will be housed at the new Chinden campus, at 11311 Chinden Boulevard, Building 8, in a suite of offices purchased by the State of Idaho several years ago to house Idaho’s State Agencies.

Building 8 is a temporary home for most of ITD’s Headquarters employees affected by the flooding at HQ at the turn of 2022. The Idaho Transportation Board, after deeming that it was in the State’s best interest for the old building to not be repaired and to be permanently vacated, recently approved the remodel of Building 3 for the future home of ITD’s employees from Headquarters.

Check out this video of the new location...and this one.

“During all of this transition, ITD has continued to be open for business to serve the citizens of Idaho,” said Chief Administrative Officer Dave Tolman. “Only the location is changing,” he added, “not the high level of service provided.”