Join the Transporta​tion Board Thursday Tour & Moscow Visit: Final Highway 95 EIS Chose Paradise Ridge Reroute

Palouse Prairie (Alison Meyer photo)

Palouse Prairie (Alison Meyer photo)

Final Highway 95 EIS Chose Paradise Ridge Reroute

After releasing its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for U.S. Highway 95 expansion and rerouting between Thorn Creek Road and Moscow on Tuesday, July 8, “the [Idaho] Transportation Department (ITD) has maintained its preferred route as the eastern path along Paradise Ridge” [1].  The 1200-page FEIS reflects that recommendation, which does not ensure that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will select the E-2 Paradise Ridge alternative for the reroute.  ITD plans to send copies of the FEIS to the FHWA district office and the environmental section of the ITD headquarters office, both in Boise.  Those agencies would review the statement and provide comments and feedback over about three weeks.  The FHWA would then submit the FEIS to its legal section in Washington D.C. for review.  The number of technical reports accompanying the statement – addressing citizen and agency concerns over wildlife, groundwater, weather, wind, weeds, and safety – could prolong FHWA legal section analysis to a couple of months, but ITD does not anticipate many questions.  The worst-case scenario for ITD – resubmitting the FEIS in response to this review – would take an estimated week.  When and if the national FHWA office finally approves the FEIS, it would place it in the Federal Register for 30 days, for other agencies to review and make comments.  Most pertinent federal and state environmental and wildlife agencies have previously advised against the E-2 route.  After this feedback, ITD would issue the record of decision (ROD), a separate document in response to federal agency comments, which would state FHWA’s route alignment selection, summarize the entire process, and undergo a FHWA review before it signs off on the ROD.  At that point, the final design phase and right-of-way plans for the new highway section would begin.  ITD has about $20 million in federal funding shifted to each of the fiscal years of 2016 and 2017 for construction.  ITD’s “very aggressive, but doable” plan foresees construction start-up by summer 2016.

​With characteristically disgraceful hubris rivaling that of Idaho’s highest elected officials, ITD has neither publicly responded as promised to the questions of 400 commenters on its draft environmental impact statement nor directly notified them of its FEIS release, as it files another likely inadequate, incomplete, and fraudulent impact statement.  It also has sidestepped citizen attempts to ascertain the project analysis schedule as well as requests for public hearings addressing legitimate citizen charges of blatant dishonesty.  ITD project manager Ken Helm asserts that “he and various consultants have spent the past year addressing each of those concerns and questions, revising technical reports, and creating new ones, in an effort to produce the final environmental impact statement” [1].  But with ITD’s obstinate insistence on the E2 route, the fix is apparently in.  According to a current schedule posted on ITD’s project website, “the FEIS will address public comments, make any corrections, and provide new information…The document will be sent to the FHWA office in Washington D.C. for a legal sufficiency review in August [and September 2014]” [2].  By mid-October 2014, the responsible (?) agencies intend to publish notice in the Federal Register of a 30-day period of FEIS “review by local resource agencies and the public.”  After the review process, ITD will prepare and issue a record of decision in late December 2014, which will require FHWA approval.

Transportation Board Will Visit Port, Highway 95, & Moscow on Thursday

In its typical last-minute manner, ITD distributed an announcement on Tuesday, July 8, that the Idaho Transportation Board will tour the Port of Lewiston, the Highway 95 section proposed for re-routing and expansion south of Moscow, the Intermodal Transit Center in Moscow, and other locations on Thursday, July 10, before holding its regular monthly meeting on Friday, July 11, at the ITD District 1 office at 600 West Prairie Avenue in Coeur d’Alene [3].  The Board will begin its tour of ITD Districts 1 and 2 highways on Thursday at the ITD District 2 office at 2600 Frontage Road in Lewiston.  Departing at 7:50 am, the Board will meet with officials at the Port of Lewiston until 8:30 am, when it will travel north on U.S. Highway 95 to a “vantage point” on Zietler and Cameron Roads, where observers can envision and discuss at 9 am the eastern and central re-routing paths of Highway 95 between Thorn Creek Road and Moscow.  After 15 minutes, the Board tour will travel north to arrive at the Intermodal Transit Center, at the corner of West Sweet Avenue and Railroad Street on the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, at 9:25 am and stay until 10:25 am.  Stops north of Moscow include Potlatch, Plummer, and Post Falls, along with overnight accommodations at the Holiday Inn Express in Coeur d’Alene and the Friday Board meeting of unknown schedule at the District 1 office. Continue reading

U.S. 95 Reroute May Be Crawling Closer

Final environmental impact statement submitted

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is one step closer to beginning construction on a proposed reroute of U.S. Highway 95 to Moscow, after submitting its final environmental impact statement to the Federal Highway Administration on Tuesday.

“As we speak, the printer is running upstairs,” Kenneth Helm, project manager, said Tuesday.  “It’s almost a 1,200-page document.  That’s just the (final environmental impact statement), that’s not the tech reports.”

The final environmental impact statement is the transportation department’s most recent milestone in the more than decade-long effort to expand Highway 95 between Lewiston and Moscow to four divided lanes, said Helm, who works at the department’s District 2 office in Lewiston.  The department was required to conduct the environmental impact analysis after a federal judge sided with the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition, a group of Moscow residents, in a 2003 injunction that halted construction north of Thorncreek Road to Moscow.

“This is what I consider a huge milestone in the project,” Helm said.  “We’re not there yet, but this is the next big jump.”

Helm said he planned to send copies on Tuesday of the final environmental impact statement to the Federal Highway Administration district office in Boise, as well as to the environmental section of the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters office.  He anticipated that they would take about three weeks to review the statement and provide comments and feedback. Continue reading