Bulldozing Through COVID

Even during these challenging and uncertain times, the world of construction just keeps on pushing forward. While construction continues to ramp up, the number of qualified people in the industry is dwindling — but not for long.

Through partnerships between the Idaho Transportation Department, Baker Technical Institute, Idaho Rural Water Association, and the Federal Highway Administration, 20 men and women will be certified to operate select heavy equipment on Idaho construction projects.

“Students will enter the workforce with certifications in Heavy Equipment Operation, and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response. They will also receive fork lift training and OSHA-10 certification,” said Jessika Phillips of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Civil Rights.

The class started on September 14 and runs through October 16. At the conclusion of the course, a “Field Day” will be held to showcase the skills these students have learned to potential employers, on five different pieces of heavy construction equipment. Media is invited on October 6, and potential employers the following day, October 7.

“This is just another of the many ways the Federal Highway Administration works with its Idaho partners to grow the specialized talent we need to keep America’s roads and bridges safe. The most important investment we can make in our nation’s highway system is in the people entrusted to protect it,” said Michael Caliendo with the Federal Highway Administration.


WHAT: Heavy Equipment Operator Combine
WHEN: Media – October 6, 2020 @10 a.m.
Employers – October 7, 2020 @ 10 a.m.
WHERE: I-84 Exit 64. One mile north on Black Creek Road. Turn left at Premier Aggregate and follow the road to the end.


Questions should be addressed to ITD’s Jessika Phillips at 208-334-8152 or Jessika.Phillips@itd.idaho.gov and Doug Dalton of Baker Technical Institute (the firm doing the instruction)  at 208-861-2749 or Doug.Dalton@bakersd.org


ITD updates Traffic Tracker tool to show historical data

before and after photo of the traffic tracker tool

The Idaho Transportation Department is updating its popular Traffic Tracker tool to provide traffic counts for the previous five years, expanding the available information and providing better context to those making use of the data.


The Traffic Tracker was launched in March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit Idaho. It was designed to track the acute, day-to-day changes in traffic patterns across the state. This information was helpful to businesses, healthcare providers, and emergency managers in understanding the impacts of lockdown. As time went by, trends emerged and the detailed data became unwieldy and unhelpful.

The update, launched Monday Aug. 3, draws from the same automatic traffic recorders as the original tool. Now, however, the data is averaged to monthly counts and plotted alongside the previous five years of data.

“We have been tracking this data for years now,” said Margaret Pridmore, ITD Roadway Data Manager. “This is information we’ve been gathering into reports for ITD executives and the Governor’s Office. With the innovation of the original traffic tracker interface, we’re now able to make this data readily available to the general public. It’s a great step in increasing transparency and providing helpful information to the people we serve.”

With a monthly comparison year over year, the information puts into context the broader impact of the pandemic on travel across Idaho. There has been a steady increase in traffic the last five years due to the exceptional growth of the state and a booming economy. Those numbers took a nose dive in March and April, quickly rebounding in May. Currently, average travel volumes are still slightly lower than previous years, but the trend is increasing – and there are some notable exceptions.

“We’re seeing record travel to remote areas of the state, such as the Central Mountains,” said Pridmore. “Boise County in particular is seeing more vehicles on Idaho Highways 55 and 21. It is a sign of people getting out of denser population centers during the pandemic.”

The monthly traffic reports are generally completed by the second week of a month. Compared to the previous day-to-day data of the original Traffic Tracker tool, these numbers will be quality checked before publishing.

McElhinney named new Idaho Transportation Department Chief Operations Officer

Dan McElhinney has been selected as the Idaho Transportation Department’s new Chief Operations Officer following a thorough national search. He is expected to begin August 10.

At ITD, McElhinney will be responsible for overseeing more than 12,000 lane miles of highways and roads, more than 1,800 bridges on the State Highway System, as well as the department’s Highway Construction & Operations and Highway Development areas, plus six district offices located in regions around the state.

McElhinney comes to ITD from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), where he serves as District 10 Director in Stockton.

As District Director, he is responsible for overseeing more than 3,500 lane miles in eight counties, leading 600 employees and managing a nearly $2 billion capital program asset management plan and an annual operating budget of more than $150 million.

Prior to accepting the Stockton position, Dan served as the San Francisco Bay Area Chief Deputy District Director, where he led more than 3,000 employees and had oversight for a construction program in excess of $10 billion.

He is a licensed civil engineer who graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering with Minors in Surveying and Metallurgy.

“One of the things about Dan that really impressed me was when he said a small culvert job in a remote and rural part of the state is just as important as a big construction project in the heart of a densely populated region of the state,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “Idaho has a lot of those small, rural places, so it is important that the Chief Operations Officer bring the right mindset to work.”

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.