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.

ITD DMV employees work from home to continue helping Idaho drivers

Beth Thompson

Idaho Transportation Department Division of Motor Vehicles employees continue to work hard from home to help Idaho drivers.

During this COVID-19 emergency, DMV Customer Contact Center employees are dedicated to keep assisting Idahoans with their DMV concerns while maintaining safe social distancing protocols. More than 160 people are working from home, answering phone calls related to all aspects of DMV operations. That includes driver’s licenses, vehicle registration and titles, motor carrier registration and permits, and vehicle dealer support. These DMV employees are taking more than 1,000 calls a day from the public, and more than 800 a day from county DMV offices across the state.

“We are living in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. It’s crucial that when the public, counties, or law enforcement of Idaho needs us with questions or assistance we are there on the other end of the call,” said Beth Thompson, Driver Records Program Supervisor. “Behind the scenes, ITD DMV is doing almost the entirety of the work from home. Whether it be a simple change of address or a complex issue regarding a driver’s license and suspension.”

They’re also helping process license and registration renewals by mail, over the phone, and online. As Idaho prepares to reopen for business, county DMV offices are adjusting hours of operation and services. ITD encourages drivers to use the online customer portal at itd.idaho.gov/driveidaho to reduce crowds and keep wait times down.

More Idahoans than ever are now using the DMV’s expanded online services. Online vehicle registrations grew from 16,000 in February to 31,000 in March, and are expected to reach over 40,000 in April. Online driver’s license and ID renewals increased from 900 in February to 2,400 in March, with 7,000 estimated in April.

Online DMV services at itd.idaho.gov/driveidaho include:

  • Driver’s license renewal (not for first-time Star Card)
  • Acquiring a replacement driver’s license or identification card
  • Paying driver’s license reinstatement fees
  • Purchasing a driving record
  • Vehicle registration renewal
  • Ordering personalized license plates
  • Checking status of vehicle plates and titles
  • Commercial vehicle oversize/overweight permits
  • Commercial vehicle registrations

The DMV has issued a 90-day extension on some credentials expiring between March 1 and May 31, 2020. This includes driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations that can be renewed online. Those expiring between March 1 and May 31 now have until June 30, 2020 to renew.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also extended the REAL ID enforcement deadline one year, to October 1, 2021. This gives Idahoans an additional year to get the Star Card, Idaho’s REAL ID.

DMV office hours and services are determined by county sheriffs and assessors and vary statewide. Please contact your county office before you make the trip, and remember you can always call ITD’s DMV Customer Contact Center at 208.334.8000. Employees will be happy to help you even as they work from home.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my Driver Records team for weathering this storm like champions. They have handled it with integrity and grace and continue to give the very best customer service,” Thompson said.

For more information and resources visit itd.idaho.gov/driveidaho.

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.

 

One hundred homemade masks donated to ITD

A lab tech in the CDA office tests concrete with a mask donated by the Johnson family in Sagle

As an essential agency, employees of the Idaho Transportation Department continue to provide services during the stay-at-home order.

Some work—from earthquake response to bridge replacements—cannot wait for better and safer times. Construction is underway, and operations crews have continued to plow snow, clean up rock fall and provide traffic control at crash scenes over the last few weeks.

Just last week, one family in North Idaho donated 100 homemade masks to ITD workers after an employee responded to a Facebook post that offered assistance.

“We are grateful for everyone who’s putting themselves on the line,” said Trina Johnson, the matriarch of the family who runs a farm known as Maker’s Long Acres in Sagle.

The masks will be available to maintenance workers, mechanics, signal technicians, construction inspectors, lab techs and administrative assistants throughout the five northern counties and will help them follow safety guidelines as they stay at work.

“It’s people like the Johnsons who inspire us to do our best while serving the public, especially in these unusual times,” North Idaho District Engineer Damon Allen said. “We thank them again for their kindness and contribution to our public mission.”

Idaho Highway 21 cleanup photo essay

Check out these photos of the cleanup on Idaho Highway 21 after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit the Central Mountains.

Click this link for details of the re-opening on April 8.

Idaho Highway 21 re-opens after earthquake damage closure

Two loaders clear an avalanche slide

ITD crews have finished cleaning up tons of rock, dirt and snow on Idaho Highway 21 between Lowman and Stanley one week after a record 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck the area.

The earthquake triggered several avalanches and landslides in Canyon Creek, an 11-mile corridor west of Stanley. Large boulders shaken loose dropped hundreds of feet to the highway, causing damage to the roadway. Aftershocks and the threat of additional landslides kept crews out of the area until Sunday, April 5.

“The earthquake was the second-largest on record in Idaho,” said Bill Nicholson, who leads the Avalanche Crew in Lowman. “I’ve been here thirteen years and never seen so much rock and earth hit the highway. Thankfully, we have a great partnership with USGS and the Geophysics Department at Boise State. They kept us updated on conditions, which helped us understand the situation and know when it was safe to get back in and start cleaning up.”

Maintenance crews from Lowman and Stanley attacked the clean-up from both sides. In just four days, they removed the debris and patched up the road before re-opening the highway to traffic.

“The community of Stanley sees Highway 21 as an important connection,” said Stanley shed foreman Brad Lynch. “It’s the most direct route to Boise and the Treasure Valley. During this pandemic, it was a concern having the route closed. I know my neighbors will breathe easier knowing we punched through and opened it up.”

In total, operators removed an estimated 2,000 cubic yards of debris from the highway. Several boulders were too large to be removed as-is. In such cases, crews used the “Boulder Buster” to break the boulders into a more manageable size.

“It was a great team effort,” said Brian Inwards, foreman for the Lowman shed. “The whole operation went incredibly well. Everyone pitched in and made it happen.”

ITD warns the traveling public on this corridor or other mountain highways of the increased risk of seasonal rockfall. Please drive with caution. Additional repairs to damaged guardrail will be completed this summer.

New traffic-tracker tool from ITD shows significant decline in vehicle trips on Idaho highways

Screenshot of the traffic tracker tool

The Idaho Transportation Department has launched a new traffic-tracking tool that allows government agencies, emergency services, and the public to see the latest changes in driver behavior on Idaho highways.

You can access the tool at: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/02bb18c4ed0f4fe1a5e57f7d39621bb9

The tool uses preliminary data to provide information faster in an easy-to-understand format. This information can help government leaders gauge ongoing economic activity. Emergency services can look to ensure critical transportation routes remain open.

“Traffic data like this is desired by numerous groups,” said Margaret Pridmore, Roadway Data Manager for ITD. “This will provide information closer to real-time than our traditional measurements. That information is helpful as decision-makers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Early results have shown a decline in travel across the state. For example, the week after COVID-19 was first confirmed in Idaho, there was an estimated 30% drop in trips on the I-184 connector. Following the stay-home order from Governor Brad Little, traffic dropped an additional estimated 26% at that location.

“One interesting thing we observed occurred in Eastern Idaho. While traffic volumes typically decreased in the days after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Idaho, I-15 traffic increased for several days. Personnel in those districts observed a lot of Canadians heading home in fear that the US-Canada border could be closed in the near future.”

The data is not as thoroughly vetted for quality as normal, meaning some abnormalities may arise. However, Pridmore is leading a team to provide the best quality information on a short deadline as can be achieved. The information is updated within 72 hours of the data being received.

ITD responds to 6.5 magnitude earthquake

two landslides fell across idaho highway 21

ITD maintenance and bridge personnel are cleaning up debris and inspecting infrastructure after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake shook the Idaho Central Mountains Tuesday night.

Several mountain highways saw rockfall on the roadway following the quake. That includes Idaho Highway 75 (ID-75) near Stanley, ID-21 north and south of Lowman, ID-55 between Horseshoe Bend and Cascade, and ID-52 east of Emmett. Maintenance crews were immediately deployed to clear these hazards from the roadway and ensure the road was safe for travel.

Aftershocks continue to rock the region, causing additional rockfall. Crews are patrolling these high-risk areas to actively clean rocks from the highway. ITD urges the traveling public to use caution when driving in these areas.

NO IMMEDIATE CONCERN FOR BRIDGES

After the earthquake, maintenance crews scanned bridge structures for damage. At this time, there has been no damage of concern noted and the highways remain open. As is always the case, if any issue is spotted, ITD will immediately close a bridge.

ITD’s Bridge Department is conducting more-detailed analysis of the situation. They are conducting additional analysis of structures closer to the earthquake’s epicenter. Over the next several weeks, inspections will be conducted on priority structures to determine whether damage has been done and repairs are needed.

IDAHO HIGHWAY 21 CLOSED BETWEEN LOWMAN AND STANLEY

A storm system dumped 27” of snow in the Canyon Creek section of Idaho Highway 21, from Grandjean to Banner Summit. This increased the risk of avalanches and ITD closed the highway at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, several hours before the earthquake.

The earthquake did cause several slides to fall onto the highway in this section. Crews entered the area to begin clean-up Tuesday night and quickly found the landslides were extensive. The crew contacted U.S. Geological Survey, which informed them of aftershocks and the risk of additional landslides. The crew withdrew and will remain out of the canyon until USGS has determined the risk of aftershocks is reduced.

At this time, the number and extent of landslides on this section are unknown. There is no timeframe when crews can re-enter the Canyon and begin clearing the road. Additional repairs to the roadway may be required as well. The Department is advising it may be many days before this section of ID-21 re-opens. Idaho Highway 75 and U.S. 93 remain open to access Stanley.

ONGOING ESSENTIAL SERVICES

Per Governor Brad Little’s Stay-Home Order, the ongoing maintenance and operation of roads are essential services and will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. ITD crews will continue to respond to rockfall and other hazards created by the record earthquake. Additional essential services, such as plowing snow, pothole repair, and striping will also continue. The Department is committed to safely executing its Mission: “Your Safety. Your Mobility. Your Economic Opportunity.”

ITD continues to provide essential services during COVID-19 pandemic

Your safety your mobility your economic opportunity

The Idaho Transportation Department continues to provide essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic through innovation and by following the guidance of health experts.

Transportation is essential to Idaho’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is imperative to provide a safe system that allows for the delivery of groceries, medical equipment and other important services throughout Idaho and the nation.

On the highway, construction is continuing to move forward. Additional safety precautions are being made on the job site to adhere to the latest guidance from health experts. Our maintenance personnel are on-hand to plow the road during Spring snow storms and do critical maintenance work, such as filling potholes, removing roadway hazards, and fixing guardrail.

In compliance with the Governor’s Stay-Home order, many office workers are providing essential services from their homes. DMV specialists are taking calls from the public and county offices. Accountants and contract administrators are filing work remotely. Collaborative meetings and working groups are conducted online. ITD has mobilized its IT resources to provide the equipment to keep this work going.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime emergency. The situation is dynamic and each day brings new information. The Department will continue to evaluate and modify its business practices as the situation develops. ITD is committed to providing its essential services to the people of Idaho in accordance to our Mission: “Your Safety. Your Mobility. Your Economic Opportunity.”

Cunningham thanks ITD for support in face of kidney failure

Chris Cunningham hasn’t been a part of the ITD family for too long — he started working here just three years ago — but he is extremely grateful for the love and support from the department as he faces advanced kidney failure.

“My condition is Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) — it causes cysts to grow on your kidneys,” Chris explained. “It an inherited disease, and has no known cure or treatment. “

His brother went to the hospital with severe back pain when Chris was 16 and was diagnosed with PKD. Doctors recommended Chris be tested for it, too, which confirmed that Chris had also inherited the disease from his father.

“My kidneys have failed further over the last few years and the function has decreased significantly. I started dialysis two years ago. Since then, I have had about 13 surgeries related to my condition.”

Chris has end-stage kidney renal failure. For the past two years, he has been working on getting a kidney transplant. His sister, Cara, has been tested and she’s a match. Still, funding stands in the way.

“I will have to live in Salt Lake City, Utah for six weeks and insurance doesn’t cover housing, food or travel,” Chris explained.

“Thankfully, our insurance will cover a large portion of the surgeries and medicine,” said his wife, Diane. “ However, Chris will be on anti-rejection medication for the duration of his life and we will have to visit Salt Lake on a frequent basis the first year and then sporadically the rest of his life. While this is a complete miracle and blessing, the travel, medicine and surgeries have taken a very heavy toll on our finances, with many more expenses to come. We are asking our community, friends, family and loved ones to help ease the toll if they can.”

If you or someone else may be able to help, or just wants more information, please visit this site.

Cunningham started as a Transportation Tech in the Caldwell maintenance shed in early 2017 and was promoted to be one of the two equipment trainers about 18 months ago.

“ITD has helped so much and supported me throughout my journey,” Chris said. “I’m eternally grateful. ITD really is a family.”