On November 26, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) approved a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) and technical reports on three alternatives for proposed realignment of U.S. Highway 95 between Thorn Creek Road and Moscow. It published the DEIS in early January 2013 and scheduled a public information/comment hearing between 2 and 8:30 pm on Wednesday, January 23, at the Best Western University Inn, 1516 Pullman Road in Moscow, and a public comment period ending on February 23. Of the three DEIS alternatives of 11 options considered by ITD – an eastern route climbing the western shoulder of scenic Paradise Ridge (E2), a central corridor realigning the middle section of the present 6.5-mile stretch of road (C3), and a western, longer route veering close to Washington (W4) – the ITD-preferred eastern alternative shifts the highway up 400 to 500 feet in elevation and 2,000 feet east, between the Primeland Cooperative grain elevators south of Moscow and the top of Reisenauer Hill.
This E2 route in the recently released DEIS mirrors alternative 10A in a previous environmental assessment (EA) of Highway 95 re-construction plans. That 2002 version provoked regional citizen concerns for climate-related highway traveler safety, urban sprawl, area aesthetics, wetland preservation, and protection of rare remnants of native Palouse Prairie habitat and wildlife. The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition (PRDC) emerged and, along with the Palouse Group of the Sierra Club and the Idaho Conservation League, successfully challenged the EA, secured a 2003 injunction from U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, and forced ITD to complete the current DEIS review process mandated for all federal highway redesign projects that widen or re-route roadbeds.
A reactivated group of prior and new PRDC members have identified many potential environmental, economic, and social consequences of the purportedly shorter, faster, and safer eastern realignment of Highway 95. Besides the same ongoing objections, they note that the DEIS E2 alternative would impose the greatest detrimental effects on pine stands, ungulate (deer, moose) conservation and collisions, endangered species, and ecosystem restoration. It would also create more stream tributary crossings, impervious surfaces, and pollution runoff and challenge flood control. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have strongly recommended against this eastern Highway 95 corridor, likely advanced by ITD to accommodate international industrial traffic like tar sands megaloads.
According to ITD, safety is supposedly the primary purpose for pursuing realignment of one of the most dangerously accident-prone stretches of highway in the state. Even though all three alternatives would make this section of highway much safer, the DEIS concludes that the higher-elevation, more weather-exposed Paradise Ridge E2 route is the safest choice. Basing its safety analysis on a five-month weather study conducted in early 2005, a drought year with no local snow on the ground, ITD does not adequately consider weather factors as it insists upon no significant weather differences between the alternatives. PRDC refutes this invalid conclusion and favors the central C3 route of comparable length, cost, and residential displacements as E2. The DEIS states that it would cause far less environmental damage and offer several socio-economic advantages over E2. Although a restructured central route would bypass eight businesses, it would provide the most convenient access points and emergency response times for local residents, especially with additional frontage roads unanalyzed by the DEIS. This clearly superior C3 alternative would foster less traffic noise, fewer fatal and injurious accidents, and the least impacts on domestic wells and visual aesthetics. It would also require fewer new right-of-ways, retain more prime farmland of statewide importance, and is more compatible with a potential City of Moscow ring road and land use goals.
The Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition, Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition, and concerned Moscow area citizens and groups invite your involvement and discussion at a knowledge-sharing session followed by a site visit. Everyone is welcome at the Highway 95 Forum and Field Trip on Saturday, January 19, in the 1912 Center Great Room, 412 East Third Street in Moscow. Between noon and 2 pm, community members will summarize the DEIS, present arguments in opposition to the eastern alternative, and open the informational meeting to questions and insights. From 2 until 5 pm, event organizers and participants will then carpool and stage a field trip to locations along and near the proposed eastern Highway 95 route described in the DEIS. Several Paradise Ridge residents will host pertinent site visits and talks off Eid and Paradise Ridge roads before evening. Travelers should dress warmly, bring beverages and snacks if desired, and expect to conclude explorations by 5 pm.
PRDC and its allies encourage your attendance of the January 23 ITD hearing in Moscow as well as your letters to regional newspaper editors about this issue. Unless citizens demand and obtain a deadline extension, public comments on the U.S. 95 Thorncreek Road to Moscow DEIS and Section 4(f) Evaluation are due on February 23. For further information and archived, recent, and ongoing issue updates, articles, interviews, and maps about this topic, please see the Highway 95 Re-Route section of the Wild Idaho Rising Tide website.