Moscow-based coalition against current plan for highway realignment highlights safety in roadside display and petition
Drivers rolling in either direction along U.S. Highway 95 on the south end of Moscow on Friday afternoon could see more than a dozen demonstrators on each side of the road near its intersection with Palouse River Drive.
Most of the demonstrators were members of the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition (PRDC), a group that has been fighting for years against the Idaho Transportation Department’s (ITD) preferred realignment route for the first phase of the highway project – a 6 1/2-mile span from Moscow to Thorncreek Road titled “E-2.” It would cross Paradise Ridge and [not] use a significant amount of the existing route.
Hand-printed messages across brightly colored signs were aimed at students and staff leaving the University of Idaho campus for the winter break.
Some of the signs were meant to be read by order of appearance, in the style of old-time, roadside advertisements. On display for drivers traveling south were three signs reading “Go Slow,” “Next 5 Miles,” and “Curves & Hills.”
All of the messages highlighted the need for cautious driving through the section of the two-lane highway, which eventually widens farther south to four lanes. Some passersby responded by honking their horns or waving at the demonstrators.
“We wanted to do this before the holidays,” said Al Poplawsky, a spokesman for PRDC.
The group has created a petition demanding safety modifications that would make the stretch of highway safer.
Steve Flint, a demonstrator, said that, along with other problems the E-2 route would create, it would likely increase the frequency of collisions between vehicles and animals, such as deer and elk.
The group would like to see alternative routes used instead.
Among other reasons opponents say they don’t like the state’s preferred route: heavy losses of wetlands, prime farmland, and conservation reserves, and removal of acres of pine stands and related habitat. It also would cause more noise and have a wider visual impact, and not be the safest for travel, opponents say.
Opponents also believe the route would be unsafe because it is at a higher elevation than other routes and would abandon portions of U.S. 95, which would become county road.
Though ITD asserts the objective of the realignment is to enhance road safety, “its decades-long neglect of public well-being on current U.S. Highway 95 indicates otherwise,” the PRDC said in a prepared statement sent out ahead of the event.
A couple of supporters of the plan also were out demonstrating with signs emphasizing safety as well.
Del Hungerford, who staunchly supports the E-2 realignment option and expects to be paid to move from her home as a result of the currently proposed realignment, also would like to see ITD install interim safety features as soon as possible.
“We all agree that we want Reisenhauer Hill safe,” she said. “But E-2 is the best choice. Read the report.”
Supporters also say that the upgrade to four lanes from two will provide adequate additional safety.
Adam Rush, a spokesman for ITD, said a federal environmental impact statement is on track to be published in the Federal Register early next year. The statement and record of decision will be posted on ITD’s website.
A start date for construction has not been set, because the project is dependent on the availability of funding, Rush said.
The safety petition is online at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/petition-to-the-idaho-1.
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