ITD public hearing shows mixed support for three alternatives
The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) experienced plenty of foot traffic during its public hearing on Wednesday to gather opinions about plans to reroute and widen U.S. Highway 95 from Thorncreek Road to Moscow.
Preferences varied about which of the three alternative routes ITD should use to resolve traffic safety issues along the 6.5-mile stretch of highway, where more than 130 accidents and six deaths have occurred during the past ten years.
Some sided with the transportation department in its preferred eastern realignment, which is the noisiest but also shortest and safest route, according to its Draft Environmental Impact Statement – the focus of Wednesday’s hearing.
The Federal Highway Administration and ITD approved the DEIS back in November and Wednesday’s hearing will be used in forming a final document for the transportation agencies to approve.
The environmental study was required by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in 2003 when he sided with the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition in a lawsuit against the transportation department. The coalition prefers a central route that would affect the least farmland and wetlands, but is predicted to have the highest crash rate.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the EPA all prefer the central alternative. However, the statement argues the path would displace eight businesses and seven homes. The eastern alternative doesn’t affect businesses, but would require 2.9 acres of Benson Mobile Home Park property to be acquired and five homes removed.
The eastern route starts at Thorncreek and shifts about 2,000 feet east at the top of Reisenauer Hill, runs along the base of Paradise Ridge and rejoins the existing highway at the Primeland Cooperative grain elevators at the southern end of Moscow.
Wednesday’s public hearing was broken into two time periods with Jim MacDonald starting it off at 3 p.m. with accusations of conspiracy lobbed at ITD, which he said is working in a “syndicate” with loggers to provide the fastest route into and out of Moscow. The longtime Paradise Ridge Road resident said Moscow Mountain and Paradise Ridge are the two most well-loved landmarks for city residents.
“Exactly who would have interest in defacing either?” he asked. “To build a road?”
Jack Flack said he favors the eastern route over the western route, which he said would traverse some of the most valuable farm land in the county, although it has the least effect on homes and businesses.
“It probably produces more per acre than any other farmland in the world,” he said, adding the project needs to start quickly. “We’ve watched a lot of people be killed since this process started.”
Paradise Ridge is a treasure that should be protected, said Joann Muneta, who favors the central realignment that would have fewer environmental and cultural effects.
“The only substantial claim that’s made for E-2 is that it’s safer,” which Muneta said she questions based on a 2005 weather study included in the DEIS that occurred during a relatively mild winter. “Please ITD, don’t let us down and persist in this bad decision.”
Neil Marzolf said his home is located along where the western realignment would be, and his property has seen plenty of accidents.
“What I see are people crashing into my yard where my four kids are,” he said. “I go to bed every night worrying about a car coming over that hill and crashing into my house.”
He added he would gladly move if he truly felt the western alignment was the safest alternative, but he sides with ITD in favoring the eastern alignment for safety.
“I’m not willing to give up my house so someone can look at a ridge and not see a highway going through there,” he said.
Nora Locken agreed with Muneta that the 2005 weather study was subpar, and she doesn’t feel the central alternative was given any real credence. She said a freezing fogline would meet the eastern alignment along the ridge and that might have been revealed had ITD done more than a year’s worth of weather study.
“That’s a big hole in the plan, and I think we should talk about what the safety would look like if we had real weather data,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that people are impacted wherever you put it, but let’s impact the least amount of ground and go with C-3.”
ITD spokesman Adam Rush said the public comment period will last until Feb. 23 and input will be used in drafting a final environmental impact statement. To read the DEIS, go to this shortened link: http://bit.ly/1475nzj.
(By Brandon Macz, staff writer, The Moscow-Pullman Daily News)