ITD Clears New U.S. Highway 95 Route for Review

Public hearing on draft set in Moscow for January

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) have approved a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) favoring an eastern realignment of U.S. Highway 95 from Thorn Creek Road to Moscow and will soon enter a public comment process.

ITD project manager Ken Helm said the impact statement was signed November 26 and will likely be published later this month or early January.

The transportation department identified the dangerous, curvy stretch of highway for realignment more than ten years ago.  Since then, there have been 220 accidents along the 6.5 mile stretch, resulting in 138 injuries and six deaths.

The preferred realignment alternative starts at Thorn Creek and shifts about 2,000 feet east at the top of Reisenauer Hill and rejoins the existing highway at the Primeland Cooperative grain elevators at the southern end of Moscow.

“The E-2 (alternative) alignment does remove a lot of the sharp curves that are on the existing road,” said Helm, adding the grade of the road will also be adjusted by no more than five percent.  The Lewiston grade is six to seven percent.

Improvements had been slated for that stretch of highway ten years ago.  However, in September 2003, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill sided with the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition against ITD over concerns the new route would damage Palouse prairie habitat.  The transportation department was ordered to perform a full environmental impact study.  Helm said the east alternative is about a mile from the top of the ridge.

A public hearing will be held by ITD between 2 and 8:30 pm on January 23 at the University Inn Best Western, with the full public comment period ending February 23.

Helm said ITD will then address the comments received and re-evaluate the DEIS for a final environmental impact statement, which will also need to be reviewed and approved by the FHA and go through a 45-day public comment period.

According to ITD documents, the alternative requires a bridge at Eid Road and would affect three homes.

“Right of way will be required once the environmental document is approved.  It is pretty much all private land.  All the routes were,” said Helm, adding the department does have the power to impose eminent domain.  “Our goal is hopefully not to have to do that.  We always definitely want to work with all property owners and work deals out and make sure they are happy and we are happy.”

The Thorn Creek project was added to ITD’s five-year investment plan in November 2011, with Phase I construction slated for 2015 and funding set at close to $20 million.  The transportation board approved another $20 million for the project in July, which is estimated to cost up to $45 million.

“Depending on the sway of the economy, we are in the ballpark,” Helm said.  “We may be a tiny bit short.”

Completion of the project is estimated to take two full construction seasons once it begins.

Helm said a project guide is being developed to assist people with review of the DEIS, with a possible DVD to also be released.  There are around 900 people signed up on the project’s mailing list.

“We have a lot to do,” Helm said.

(By Brandon Macz, staff writer, The Moscow-Pullman Daily News)

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