Traveling for the Eclipse? Don’t start a wildfire

Wildfire Generic

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to travel to Idaho to view the August 21 solar eclipse – right in the middle of fire season. The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has some simple tips to avoid accidentally starting a wildfire during your road trip.

The majority of wildfires in Idaho are started by us humans. Driving in your car can be the source of several ways those fires start, whether it’s hanging metal hitting the road or throwing out lit cigarettes.

Here are four things to do while you’re on the road to see the solar eclipse:

  1. Before leaving, look under your car and check for hanging parts. Mufflers often get knocked loose and can hang low to the ground. If you see something hanging down, tie it up. These parts can skip on pavement and shower sparks on grasses alongside the roadway.
  2. If you are towing a trailer or camper, ensure safety chains are fastened and not dragging. Bumps in the road can cause hanging chains to hit the ground and spark.
  3. Don’t drive or park on tall grass. The exterior of your engine or exhaust can get up to 2,800°F. Contact with dry grass can easily start a fire. See this video PSA from U.S. Forest Service.
  4. Don’t throw out lit cigarettes. When you’re done with a cigarette, make sure the end is completely put out and cool to the touch. Otherwise, you’re throwing a small fire onto a big pile of tinder.

ITD hopes everyone traveling to see the eclipse has a fun and safe time. By checking your car before you leave and making smart choices on the road, you can help ensure this experience stays wildfire free.

4 myths about road tripping for the solar eclipse in Idaho

4 Eclipse Trip Myths

The August 21 solar eclipse has everyone talking. Unfortunately, some of those conversations are filled with made up assumptions, inaccuracies, or straight-up lies. So, in this age of alternative facts, here are four road myths surrounding the eclipse we want to clear up.

#1. The interstate will be turned into a one-way – FALSE

We’ve heard it from all over the state of Idaho: “The route in my backyard will be changed to go just one direction.” This is absolutely false. This rumor is so untrue, the pants set on fire by those telling it runs the risk of burning down the entire state.

So, let’s be very clear. Whatever the configuration of the road is today will be the configuration before, during, and after the eclipse. I-15 will remain a north- and southbound road; same for U.S. 95 –  and so on and so forth.

#2. Semi-trucks will not be allowed on the road – MOSTLY FALSE

Most commercial traffic will be allowed to travel during the eclipse – though we want to throw out there that traffic will likely be congested. There will be a restriction on very large loads.

The Division of Motor Vehicles is implementing a “holiday protocol” for those big rigs. Starting Sunday, Aug. 20th at 4 p.m. and ending at dawn Aug. 22 loads exceeding 10’ wide, 100’ long or 14’6” may not travel on Interstate or State highways south of Lewiston.

For questions, call the overlegal permits department at 208.334.8420 or email at permits@itd.idaho.gov

#3. All construction will be suspended during the eclipse – SOMEWHAT TRUE

Okay, construction is complicated. The window for crews to get into a place and do work that may take months to complete can be narrow. Where projects can be suspended to improve traffic flow and safety, we are doing that. For some projects, we can’t – if we’ve only got one lane done on a bridge, we can’t pull up and make a difference.

If it helps, we’ll have flaggers out to help move people along. Please use extra caution and patience in active work zones.

#4. Traveling for the eclipse is like driving to work. I don’t need to take extra steps – FALSE

Areas where the moon will completely block the sun – the “Path of Totality” – generally fall on pretty remote parts of Idaho. We’re talking bad or no cell signal, sparse services like gas stations, and lots of big critters that can cross the road. Also, much of southern Idaho is a desert, full of dry grass just waiting to catch fire.

Plan ahead and make smart choices during your trip. Your GPS may not work in the mountains so bring a physical map (they still make those), extra food and water, and fill your tank full before you cross into the hinterlands. Also, make sure nothing is hanging low from your car or trailer. A dropped muffler can hit the road and spark, which is a great way to start a wildfire.

This total solar eclipse is a rare opportunity to see something amazing and we are excited so many people want to come to beautiful Idaho to see it. Help share these truths and bust those myths out there!

Things to check before your eclipse road trip

Road Trip Generic

The Idaho Transportation Department is advising drivers who are planning to travel to view the eclipse to be prepared in the event of delays or an emergency.

The eclipse takes place on Monday, Aug. 21. It is anticipated there will be numerous travelers on highways and local routes.

Drivers should ensure their vehicles are in good working order. This includes getting the tire pressure checked, and making sure a vehicle’s battery, tires, headlights and brakes are in good working order.

In addition, drivers should carry emergency flares or portable signs to alert other drivers of an emergency, extra food and water, extra clothing or blankets for cooler weather, a flashlight with fully charged batteries, a fully charged cell phone and a map of Idaho highways.

The transportation department’s 511 web page and mobile app for Apple or Android will alert drivers to delays on the state’s highways. However, those planning to use the app on their smart phones or check web pages likely will not have cell service in remote or mountainous areas in Idaho.

When possible, travelers are encouraged to return home on Tuesday, Aug. 22, or later in the week. This will reduce the number of vehicles on highways that are returning home Monday afternoon.

The transportation department is working to develop a statewide plan to ensure motorists have the information they need ahead of the Aug. 21 event. ITD’s Jennifer Gonzalez shares some information about the agency’s preparation efforts, including how drivers can prepare, in the latest edition of the department’s In Motion video series below.

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.

Drilling to slow traffic on state highways in eastern Idaho starting Monday (Aug. 7)

RIGBY – Work zones will be necessary for routine roadbed sampling of several state highways in eastern Idaho on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting Monday (Aug. 7).

Beginning in the Idaho Falls area and then moving to other parts of the region, a contractor from Boise will bore holes in the roadway as close as every mile apart to determine the depth and quality of asphalt. The project is scheduled for completion Aug. 16.

Technicians will take samples of the pavement and then patch the holes left behind. Each stop takes approximately 10 minutes.

Travel will be reduced to one lane in each direction on four-lane highways and to one lane on two-lane routes, with signs or flaggers directing traffic through the work zones.

Motorists should expect brief delays.

The speed limit may be reduced along some stretches.

The project is part of certain road studies occasionally conducted by ITD to analyze pavement.

Drivers should watch for maintenance workers and equipment, and obey all traffic signs.

Construction on Idaho State Highway 55 between Caldwell and Nampa will begin Aug. 8

ID 55 Construction

BOISE – Motorists can expect daytime lane restrictions, speed reductions and intermittent detours during construction this summer and fall.

The project includes repaving Idaho 55 between Pride Lane in Caldwell and Middleton Road in Nampa and improving the intersections at Farmway Road, Lake Avenue and Midway Road.

Each intersection will be widened to include five lanes on Idaho 55 and three lanes on local roads. ITD will install a new traffic signal at Farmway and Midway roads and replace the traffic signal at Lake Avenue.

“The best way to learn about traffic restrictions is to sign up for emails from ITD,” said ITD Construction Coordinator Merrill Sharp.  “The work schedule may change based on factors such as weather and utility work. We will send regular updates about what motorists can expect each week.”

ID55 Map 08_17

Map of construction zone for Idaho 55. Work begins Aug. 8.

 

During construction, lanes on ID-55 will be restricted during the day and the speed limit will be reduced. Traffic may be detoured around each intersection for several days.

The initial weeks of construction include widening the Farmway Road and Lake Avenue intersections and paving Idaho 55 between Pride Lane and Farmway Road.

“When complete, this project is expected to bring significant safety benefits for the 10,000 motorists who travel this stretch each day,” said Sharp. “While the road is under construction, however, we are asking motorists to plan ahead and expect delays.”

Construction details also will be posted to itd.idaho.gov/d3. To sign up for updates, text IDAHO55 to 22828 or email Jennifer.Gonzalez@itd.idaho.gov

Nearly 100 attend Targhee Pass workshop July 27 in Island Park

RIGBY – Nearly 100 people attended the July 27 alternative-development workshop in Island Park for the Targhee Pass Environmental Assessment (EA) being conducted by the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD).

Targhee Pass is a four-mile portion of the U.S. 20 corridor. In addition to serving Yellowstone National Park, Targhee Pass serves many popular recreational and tourist destinations. The highway functions as the regions Main Street, providing primary access to year-round residences, vacation homes, hunting and fishing lodges, state park and national forest areas, and a variety of community commercial establishments.

At the July 27 meeting, the public reviewed information on the EA process, timeline, and the EA updated purpose and need statements. Several citizens reviewed materials and screening criteria, and then drew or commented on their ideas for potential alternatives on blank maps of the study area.

“We were very pleased with attendance from the community and the level of engagement of citizens,” said ITD Project Manager Eric Verner. “We appreciate the passion people have for Island Park and the Targhee Pass area. Feedback from the community is important to our study team, providing valuable insight into area issues, challenges and opportunities.”

Those unable to attend Thursday’s meeting can access displays, information and resources from the event at http://islandparkus20.com/helpful-resources/public-meeting-opportunities-materials/. Please send comments/suggestions to the study team by Aug. 10. Input will help ITD officials develop alternatives and then schedule another public meeting later this summer (before Labor Day).

There will be an opportunity to comment on proposed alternatives at the next public meeting, prior to these alternatives being carried forward for analysis in the EA.

For questions, or to submit feedback, please contact the team:
Targhee Pass Study Team
(c/o The Langdon Group)
677 South Woodruff Avenue
Idaho Falls, ID 83401
(208) 220-5937
targheepass@langdongroupinc.com

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the lead agency on this study, responsible to sign the final study document. The study is being completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. For more information on the EA, please contact Andrea Gumm at 208-220-5937.

Interagency effort underway to prep for Idaho Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse Corona

As the countdown to the August 21 solar eclipse approaches, the state of Idaho is gearing up for a potentially large influx of visitors that will be descending into southern Idaho to view this natural phenomenon.

In preparation for the event, the Idaho Transportation Department is working with other state and local agencies actively preparing and organizing a statewide plan, which includes being responsive, ready to assist law enforcement and most importantly, reducing impacts to travelers before, during and after the eclipse

“We know this will be a big draw for tourism in Idaho and most of the people are going to use our roads to get there and see it,” said ITD Chief Engineer Kimbol Allen. “We want visitors to have an enjoyable time in Idaho. We want to make sure that we do everything we can do have the roads open and ready to allow traffic to get in and back out after the eclipse.”

ITD is sharing tips with travelers on our website-as well as on overhead message boards and through the media that focus on safety, preparedness and travel plans. Most importantly, ITD encourages everyone to be patient, be responsible and give yourself enough time for travel prior to and after the eclipse.

We want our resources out informing people about what’s happening and what they can expect and what they can do about it and where the can be be, safely, to enjoy the eclipse.

The Idaho Department of Commerce has also devoted a statewide website with links to local planning resources, preparedness information and eclipse materials.

Milling and paving on Idaho Highway 8 through Moscow will impact traffic, businesses for next week and a half

Laying asphalt
Map of Hwy 8 Mill and Fill
Map of Hwy 8 Mill and Fill

LEWISTON – Milling and paving on Idaho Highway 8 is expected to impact drivers and businesses during daytime hours for the next week and a half. Crews will block three of the lanes, leaving one lane open in each direction.

Intersections and driveways may be temporarily closed during the rehabilitation. The worst traffic impacts during milling are expected to occur today through Monday (Aug. 2-7).

Crews will begin milling off the top section of roadway surface around 5 a.m., with paving coming through around 10 a.m. in that same section. The work is expected to continue throughout the day and finish by that evening.

Work on this $3.55 million job, contracted to Poe Asphalt, of Clarkston, Washington, is expected to finish by late September.

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.