Murf Raquet (for the editorial board), Moscow
The Moscow-Pullman Daily News 12/13/12
Realignment, reroute, fix, or upgrade, whatever term you prefer, it looks as if a treacherous portion of U.S. Highway 95 is finally getting the attention it has needed for a long time.
The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has issued a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for its selection of a new route for Highway 95 between Thorn Creek Road and south Moscow. ITD has picked the E2 route to the east of Highway 95 on Paradise Ridge.
More than a decade ago, Idaho officials had planned to build a straighter and safer 6.5-mile stretch of the state’s major north-south road. They had proposed numerous options to the west and east of the curvy part and one that improved the existing section.
An alternative that rerouted the highway over parts of Paradise Ridge was then also favored by the state. Residents on the ridge and others objected, saying the road would have a disastrous effect on portions of Palouse prairie that manage to exist in patches on the ridge.
A lawsuit was filed in 2003 saying the state did not properly conduct a DEIS for the route. (Some folks even tried to save the beleaguered prairie by tying it to the giant Palouse earthworm, but the grassroots movement gained little traction.)
A U.S. District Court judge agreed the [environmental assessment] was improperly done and ordered a new impact statement. For the past nine years, the laborious process has been conducted by ITD, under the microscope of public scrutiny.
It makes perfect sense to follow the letter and spirit of the law when doing the public’s business, and the first [environmental assessment] should have been completed with that transparency.
In having to start the process again, the state added years to the project and years of traffic on an unsafe stretch of road. In the past ten years, there have been 220 accidents resulting in 138 injuries and six deaths.
We do not know if a new route would have prevented the accidents, but there is a better than good chance the number would have been reduced.
The state will conduct public hearings on the latest DEIS. They will then issue an environmental impact statement, conduct more hearings and, if all is well with the process, begin construction on the reroute in 2015.
We hope the process will not be marred by any more preventable – and lengthy – delays. That stretch of Highway 95 has been called a goat path for too long.
(For citizen rebuttals, see Fix Existing U.S. 95 and Safety and the Law.)
Paradise Ridge is a rare gem, containing one of the most intact patches of remnant native prairie on the Palouse, or anywhere else for that matter. For example, I have never encountered areas on the ridge where there were not up to five varieties of Indian paint brush in bloom at the same time. Where else would you see such diversity? The diversity is so substantial compared to anywhere else I have seen in this region, it deserves protection and a significant barrier from the Highway 95 expansion and the invasive plant species it would bring.