Report shows significant reduction in human-caused fires along I-84 even as traffic increases

BLM crews conduct a prescribed burn along ID-51

As historic catastrophic wildfires ravage the coastal states, a new report from the Bureau of Land Management is showing positive results of a fuel reduction program along Interstate 84 in southwest Idaho, a partnership between BLM and the Idaho Transportation Department.

ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County
ITD crews mow alongside U.S. 20 in Elmore County

The fuel reduction program began in 2013. Since that time, fires along the interstate have decreased in size by 95%. During that same time, the amount of traffic has increased by 30%. You can read the report on BLM’s website here.

The program involved BLM identifying critical areas for vegetation growth alongside I-84 between Boise and Mountain Home. Working with ITD maintenance crews, these areas are treated with various methods. In some locations, additional gravel is placed beside the shoulder to lengthen the distance between fuels and potential fire starts from vehicles. ITD maintenance crews will mow alongside highways to reduce available fuel. In some instances, BLM crews will conduct controlled burns to eliminate built-up vegetation. The video below captures this work.

“The partnership with BLM has been very good for the traveling public,” said Carl Vaughn, ITD foreman out of Mountain Home. “We’ve seen few fires along I-84, which means fewer road closures. We’ve knocked down barriers between the federal agency and our own to the benefit of the people we’re here to serve.”

You can do your part to prevent human caused wildfires along the roadway. Before you leave on your next trip, check beneath your vehicle and make sure nothing is dragging close to the ground. If towing, ensure safety chains are not dragging. Don’t park your vehicle in tall or dry grass, where contact with a hot part can cause a fire start. For more safety tips, visit idahofireinfo.com.

More than 1,200 cited in two-week long effort to increase seat belt use 

BOISE – The results are in and after statewide enforcement and awareness effort to buckle up, participating officers issued 1,265 citations for seat belt violations. 

In Idaho, the seat belt use rate is 85%. The mobilization efforts exist for the remaining 15% who still don’t buckle up. In the last five years, from 2015-2019, 56 percent of vehicle occupants killed in Idaho were not restrained and 1,207 unrestrained vehicle occupants were critically injured in traffic crashes. 

“Despite major advancements in vehicle protection, the most effective way to reduce serious injury or fatalities in crashes still remains the simplest task of all: wearing a seat belt,” said Highway Safety Grants Officer Josephine Middleton. 

The mobilization launched July 25 and wrapped up August 7. Typically, the Click It or Ticket campaign runs in May, but given the downturn in traffic counts this spring due to COVID-19, the Office of Highway Safety ran the mobilization effort later in the summer when more cars were on the road 

Even with the challenges of this year, many agencies found a way to make sure that Idahoans were buckled up when driving during the 100 Deadliest Days,” added Middleton. 

 

 

 

 

ID-55 project between Smiths Ferry and Round Valley to start September 8

ID-55 at Smiths Ferry

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) starts road work on the Idaho Highway 55 safety-enhancement project between Smiths Ferry and Round Valley on September 8.

The public is invited to attend a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 2, from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. where ITD representatives will give an overview of the project and take questions. The link to attend will be posted on the project website, itdprojects.org/ID55smithsferry, 15 minutes prior to the meeting.

Work will largely be done in fall, spring and summer months, with construction stopping during the winter. This fall, travelers can expect full closures on the roadway Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to allow for blasting and rock removal.

Motorists can find additional details on road closures and traffic patterns on the project website, and can sign up for email and text updates.

“Our goal with this project is to enhance the safety of this mile-long section of the roadway,” Project Manager Alex Deduck said. “Construction crews will remove about 146,000 tons of rock from the hillside, which we want to do very carefully to not create rockslides or impact the river.”

Crews will work on widening shoulders and straightening the curves of the road. This project will also provide a smoother, safer ride for motorists by adding guardrail.

Motorists should anticipate reduced speeds and lanes reduced to one-way alternating traffic during construction. Seasonal closures and traffic patterns will be as follows:

  • Fall (September – November): One-way alternating traffic controlled by a temporary signal; daytime and nighttime work, seven days a week; full road closures Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Winter (December – Mid-March): No construction expected; all lanes open
  • Spring (Mid-March – Mid-May): One-way alternating traffic controlled by a temporary signal; daytime and nighttime work, seven days a week; full road closures Monday – Thursday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Summer (Mid-May – August): One-way alternating traffic controlled by flaggers; daytime and nighttime work, Monday – Friday

The project is expected to be completed by late fall 2022. ITD and the Idaho State Police advise motorists to slow down and pay attention when driving in work zones, where increased speeding fines and other penalties apply. Motorists are encouraged to plan ahead and dial 5-­1-­1 or visit 511.idaho.gov for information on the state highway or interstate system.

Idaho Goes Hands-Free July 1

A driver heads down I-84 in Meridian with both hands on the wheel.
On July 1, 2020 drivers in Idaho will no longer be able to use handheld electronic devices while driving.

Idaho is about to become the latest state to have a hands-free driving law on the books. Earlier this year the Idaho legislature passed House Bill 614 banning the use of handheld electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. The new law takes effect on July 1.

Distracted driving is a contributing factor in about one out of every five crashes in Idaho. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 241 people killed in distracted driving crashes across the state with hundreds more seriously injured.

While most of us choose to drive engaged by putting away distractions and focusing on the road – the new law may be a timely reminder for others to drive well.

Here are some answers to questions you might have about Idaho’s newest traffic safety law:

We already have a distracted driving law, so how is this new law different?

In 2012, the legislature passed a law that prohibited texting — this statute will be repealed once the new law becomes effective. The old law focused on the act of texting and driving and did not provide provisions for other uses of phones like using social media, watching or capturing videos, or playing video games. The new law accounts for many of the additional ways we use electronic devices.

Another notable change in the law is its definition of operating a motor vehicle. For the former texting and driving law to be enforced, it required the driver to be texting while driving a vehicle in motion. The new law applies when you drive or have physical control of a motor vehicle in a travel lane on a public roadway – even if you are temporarily stopped at a stop sign or a traffic signal. Keep in mind, if you are parked out of the travel lane, you can use your phone.

Under the new law, use of a handheld electronic device becomes a moving violation and carries a progressive fine for multiple violations within a three year period.

My city already has a hands-free ordinance, do I need to keep that in mind?

Once the law takes effect, it will preempt all local ordinances in relation to hands-free driving. In other words, the expectation statewide is that we put our phones away while we drive.

Will drivers get a chance to get used to the new law? 

One of the provisions of the new law is that people won’t receive citations for violations in the first six months in order to educate the public about the new law. But just because law enforcement officers aren’t issuing citations doesn’t mean they aren’t enforcing the law. You can still be stopped by officers is they see you driving with a handheld device.

There are a lot of other distractions, so why are we only focusing on the phone?

Distracted driving happens when you participate in any activity that takes your attention away from the act of driving. Anyone who drives can tell attest to the fact that there is a nearly endless list of possible distractions.

No matter the distraction, it falls into one of three categories: manual, visual, or cognitive. When you use a phone or other handheld electronic device you are participating in all three types of distractions at once. Putting the phone away eliminates two of these three types of distractions and put you in a position to be better prepared to anticipate and react to the road.

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.

As winter melts away, spring brings new driving precautions

US-12 slide near Kamiah from April 2019

ITD crews, including our most dedicated snow plow operators, look forward to the onset of spring. But, the new season brings new challenges. Spring is a time of transition, and fluctuating temperatures can make it one of the busiest seasons for our employees. As winter melts away, please be mindful of the below scenarios and take precautions.

Problems can pop up quickly — whether it’s a series of deep, tire-damaging potholes in the fast lane or massive mudslides that block key routes in just minutes. Responding to these situations can be challenging as crews switch from long hours of nighttime snow plowing to daytime repairs.

Some repairs — like patching potholes — have to be done with multiple treatments since they’re not as effective in cold weather. Other repairs may need to wait until trucks currently outfitted with plows can be converted to haul other materials.

This transition from winter to spring applies to drivers, too. You still need to be prepared for winter conditions, especially when traveling over mountain passes. Spring is an excellent time to change out wiper blades and check tires to prep your car for wet roads. Shadowed corners can be icy on cold mornings, and storms can mix rain and snow as you gain elevation. In periods of heavy rain, vigilantly watching for rocks or objects in the road can prevent a dangerous collision.

When the weather warms up, so does the desire to get outside. It’s important to watch the road not just for hazards such as fallen rocks and adverse weather conditions but to also take extra precautions and be on the lookout for motorcyclists, bicyclists, children at play and even wildlife.

As ITD crews switch to springtime tasks, make the switch too by planning for changing road conditions. Be sure to check 511.idaho.gov for alerts before you hit the road to stay safe while you travel.

First Tracks – Teens and Winter Driving

Teen Driving Distracted

It’s a weekend tradition for many Idaho families – heading up to snowy mountains to ski or board together. Parents often put quite a bit of time, lessons and teaching moments into making sure their kids have fun and learn safety on the hill.

In the same way, learning to drive in winter weather can be a challenge, and teens have a few extra obstacles to overcome as brand new drivers. Just like ski lessons, teens need a little help to be prepared and safe on winter roads.

Emily Kormylo, Idaho’s Driver Education Coordinator, says winter is a popular time for parents to enroll their teen in drivers ed. Parents hope the winter conditions will help their teens learn driving skills in challenging situations that can help them year-round. And for a good reason —  teen drivers have a higher rate of fatal crashes, mainly because of their lack of experience. They speed, they make mistakes, and they get distracted easily – especially if their friends are in the car. (as reported by NHTSA)

How can you – as a parent – help?

Practice

In addition to enrolling your teen in drivers ed, help your teen practice their winter driving skills. Go to a parking lot to practice on ice, in low-visibility and snowy conditions. Talk about road conditions they may encounter even in early spring – like icy corners on rural highways or obscured lane lines when snow piles up. Make sure your car is winter-ready and check road conditions at 511.idaho.gov before any road trip.

Leave early and slow down

For most teens, mornings are not their favorite time of day. But rushing around and running late can make driving on slick roads even more stressful.

Speed is a significant factor in winter crashes. One out of every five crashes in Idaho involves a youthful driver. Younger drivers, especially teens, also showed more risk of contributing factors in crashes like speeding, inattention and tailgating.

While the message is simple, slowing down and buckling up are simple ways teens can stay safe on the roads.

Minimize Distractions

We know teens are more susceptible to distractions behind the wheel, especially if friends are in the car. Distractions could include:

  • Texting or talking on the phone
  • Eating
  • Loud music or conversations with friends

Encourage your teen to be an engaged driver, in the moment, focused on the road.

Be the Driver You Want Them to Be

Parents, sometimes what you say isn’t nearly as loud as what you do. Especially when it comes to what you do in the car. Be an engaged driver. Slow down in inclement weather. Wear your seat belt and put down the phone. Your kids and teens are watching you for good driving habits.

Visit Shift-idaho.org/idahoready for winter driving tips, including info on winter emergency kits and pointers for new-to-snow drivers.

Road Closed…What?!

You planned a fun ski trip for the last 3 months across the other side of the state. You get ready to head out the door and check the weather for your route. You’re expecting snow but as of right now roads look fine. You have a 5 plus hour drive to get to the ski resort if all goes well. It’s 4 pm on a Thursday and you start your journey east to the mountains, if all goes well you’ll be there by 9 pm. A few hours into your drive the weather takes a little turn, the snow is coming down a little heavier, temperatures start to drop and the wind is now beginning to blow pretty hard. You start driving a little slower and about 70 miles from the ski resort your travels have now become white knuckle driving.

Only 55 miles left to go, you are a little edgy and just want to get to the resort and off the icy roads. You start on one of the local highways headed East to the mountain and about 45 minutes from the resort you drive up to a road closure on the highway. Saying some choice words at this point and thinking you can make it because you’re so close you stop behind a semi waiting the storm out at the block. You step out and realize its dang cold and windy, so you get back in your car and bundle up to stay warm. You get back out of your car and walk up to the gentleman sitting at the road block.

Dying to drive past the road block and get to the resort you ask him the infamous question…why is the road closed? The man tells him it is very low visibility, the 5 foot snow drifts are completely across the road and the crews cannot keep up with them as the wind is already at 45 mph. A little upset, you now follow-up with another question…when will the road be open? Can I just drive through, I’m sure I can make it?!

Of course the answer will always change as to when a road will be open as that is completely on a situational basis but the man tells you it will be open as soon as the weather cooperates and they can break though so maybe tomorrow night. He also proceeds to say that you cannot drive through the road block. Quite upset at this point because this totally messed up your weekend ski trip, you turn around and decide to stay in a hotel nearby to wait out the storm in hopes the road will open soon. Instead of driving passed the road block you make a wise choice to wait it out.

Has this scenario ever happened to you before where you drove up to a road closure due to the weather? If you live in Idaho, it most likely has happened to quite a few of you. It’s frustrating, it’s inconvenient and trust us when we say we totally understand!

Many travelers wonder why we close roads during the winter weather season…There’s many reasons actually! In severe weather road conditions our number 1 reason is low-visibility. ITD crews make numerous passes on our roadways and if they cannot see well they determine it is unsafe for motorists. Secondly, if the wind is blowing too hard then the snow drifts become uncontrollable. Once the snow drifts become unmanageable and the crews cannot keep up with them, this is also an indicator to close a road.  Some other reasons would be severe black ice on the roadways and heavy snowfall that is impassable. Also, in the mountain passes typically the road might be closed due to avalanches.

When crews close a road, it is closed for a good reason…to keep motorists safe! ITD and ISP do not like to close roads due to the weather, we would prefer keep roads open to keep traffic flowing but that is not the case all of the time. Here’s some food for thought…when coming up to a road block and you get the urge to drive past it and continue on know that per Idaho Code 19-623 it is up to a $300 fine, a possible misdemeanor and possible imprisonment in county jail.

So when you drive up to a road block next time, we recommend to simply turn back and stay in a safe place until the road becomes open again. Our #1 goal is safety for the travelling public and ourselves!

Roads will only close for you and your family’s safety and we want to create the safest travel possible. Be sure to drive for the conditions, plan ahead, be prepared, stay engaged, and visit 511.idaho.gov before you go for current road updates. Dont forget to check out ITD’s road closure video!

ITD partners with Leighton Vander Esch on seat belt safety

Buckle Up, Idaho campaign kick off with Leighton Vander Esch

 
BOISE—The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is partnering with Idaho native and Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to remind Idahoans to buckle up.

Brought to life in a new educational campaign, “Rules to LVE By,” today’s announcement kicks off a partnership between ITD and Vander Esch focusing on the importance of wearing a seat belt at all times while in a vehicle.

“We are thrilled to partner with Leighton on this project,” said ITD Highway Safety Manager John Tomlinson. “He believes in hard work and doing things the right way, these are his rules to live by. Wearing a seat belt is one of those rules and we hope other Idahoans follow that example.”

Statistics show that eighty-five percent of people in Idaho buckle up. At the same time, nearly two-thirds of people killed in motor vehicle crashes were not properly restrained. The majority of those people were killed on rural roads.

“Having Leighton onboard can really make a difference in those rural communities,” Tomlinson said. “That’s where he grew up and he really understands the values of a small town but he also has a broad appeal that will resonate with all Idahoans.”

“I’m very proud to be from Idaho and my wife and I love coming home every chance we get,” Vander Esch said. “Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about the importance of seatbelt safety in my work with ITD, I’m excited to partner with them to help educate Idahoans about the importance of buckling up.”

The statewide program “Rules to LVE By” will include a media campaign featuring Vander Esch and educational events being planned at schools throughout the state. The first commercials featuring Vander Esch and his personal rules, including a message to “always buckle up,” were released today, and can be seen at shift-idaho.org/buckleupidaho.

“I’m grateful that I can help save lives and give back to the place that will always be my home,” Vander Esch said.

Wet weather expected to create hazardous travel conditions in North Central Idaho through the weekend

Plow truck damaged by a tree on ID-162 MP 21

Drivers are encouraged to exercise caution as snowy, rainy and windy conditions are creating hazardous conditions by bringing trees and rocks down onto highways in North Central Idaho. Soils, saturated by moisture, are not able to anchor rocks and vegetation to hillsides.

Small rockslides closed Idaho Highway 14 at mileposts 22 and 38 earlier this morning, and US-12 at milepost 93 is currently blocked by fallen trees. Over the last several days, variable weather conditions have resulted in numerous callouts for downed trees, rock fall and plugged culverts.

“Heavy snow from previous storms has weighed down trees, and saturated soils are unable to keep trees in place, especially in windy conditions,” Operations Engineer Bob Schumacher said. “Just last night, one of our plow trucks—while responding to a downed tree in the road—was hit by another tree.”

The truck was not occupied at the time.

“So far, we have dealt mainly with rocks and trees,” Schumacher said. “Travelers should also be aware of the potential for avalanches in areas of steep slopes, particularly on US-12, with this variable weather.”

Drivers are advised to be cautious this time of year and to look for debris in the road. They should also check 511.idaho.gov for any road blockages or closures, and plan extra time for any travel.