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Posts tagged: Highway 95

ITD’s eminent domain battles with North Idaho landowners run up big tab, land in court…

Alan Johnson’s company lost 16.3 acres of prime property along U.S. 95 in North Idaho when the state seized it for a new interchange under eminent domain law.  Now the shopping center developer stands to lose another $1.1 million, which is how much the state paid an outside law firm to wrangle over reimbursement for the property – because the state wants Johnson’s company to pay the legal fees the Idaho Transportation Department incurred in trying to seize the land. Johnson calls the tactic “completely unconstitutional,” a sentiment echoed by his lawyer, who said the episode is a “perversion” of law.

The case, now pending before the Idaho Supreme Court, is raising questions about Idaho’s use of eminent domain; a local legislator, Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, says Idaho needs to change its laws. Meanwhile, the shopping center site – slated for the Athol area’s first major grocery store – stands vacant as the multi-year court fight continues.  “I’ve never encountered anything like this,” said Johnson. “All we’re trying to do is get the fair market value for what the property was, to get the access to the site after it’s done, and to make sure that our utility issues were taken care of,” he said, adding, “For every dollar we spend in attorney fees, the state spends about $3 or $4. … There’s got to be an easier way to do this.”

ITD has spent $2.1 million and counting on legal fees to an outside firm to battle over prices for seized property along the Garwood-to-Sagle project on Highway 95. Another property owner, Dee Jameson, had his own year-plus legal fight with the state, after which the state’s legal bills added up to nearly as much as it agreed to pay Jameson. “I don’t think they gained any ground by their strategy,” said Jameson, a past president of the Idaho Association of Realtors. He said the long fight over the price was “a total waste of the state’s time and money, in my opinion.” You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

GE subsidiary drops megaload appeal

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A General Electric Co. subsidiary has given up its legal fight to haul the second of two huge loads of water purification equipment through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and will find another way to get the equipment to the Canadian oil fields. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/HjByVF) Resources Conservation Company International filed documents Thursday saying it was dropping its emergency motion to stay an injunction that prevented it from using the U.S. Highway 12 route. GE issued a statement saying the equipment is important to its customers and it will focus on finding alternative shipment options. Last month, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued an injunction that effectively blocked the GE unit from hauling large loads along the winding, two-lane road that passes through tribal lands and a federally designated Wild and Scenic River corridor.

Four Omega Morgan mini-megaloads head up Highway 95 from Lewiston, but big one still at port

Late yesterday afternoon, the Idaho Transportation Department announced four oversized loads from Omega Morgan would travel up Highway 95 from Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene, starting last night at 9:30, en route to I-90 to Montana. “Each shipment is 20.1 feet wide, 15.6 feet tall, 75 feet long and weighs under 80,000 pounds,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush reported. “They will enter Idaho from the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, Wash., using Idaho 128. Once the shipments reach Coeur d'Alene, they will travel eastbound to Montana on Interstate 90.”

Remember that Omega Morgan has had a giant water evaporator bound for the Canadian oil sands sitting at the Port of Wilma, stalled by a federal court order, since it sent a similar one across Highway 12 in north-central Idaho in August for a division of General Electric. The company argued that the megaloads couldn’t be reduced in size, and thus had to travel over the scenic river corridor, which unlike the I-90 freeway, has no overpasses that limit heights. The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued the U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridor, and a federal judge halted the shipments until the Forest Service has completed a corridor study and consulted with the tribe. On Friday, the company filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

So has the evaporator has now been cut up into four loads? ITD says no. “The equipment shipped last night is different than the equipment proposed to travel U.S. 12,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten. “That equipment is still at the port of Wilma.”

ITD reports that three flagging teams, two pilot vehicles and portable signs are traveling with each pair of shipments as they move up Highway 95 and along I-90, and delays for other traffic on 95 are required to not exceed 15 minutes. “Locations have been identified along U.S. 95 where the shipments can safely pull over to let traffic pass,” Rush said. Click below for his full news release.

ITD to pay more than $1M in fines for clean water violations in Highway 95 work

The Idaho Transportation Department has agreed to pay more than $1 million in fines for Clean Water Act violations related to construction on Highway 95 south of Coeur d'Alene, including an additional $774,000 in fines it'll pay now on top of the $325,000 it paid in 2008. The agreement between ITD and the EPA is part of a settlement that also ends five years of annual audits of ITD by the EPA to monitor compliance; in addition, ITD made various improvements in its practices over the past five years as part of its agreement with the EPA, including requiring winter shutdowns for contractors, strengthening compliance rules for contractors, and improving training. Click below to read ITD's full announcement.

ITD taps stimulus to eliminate Highway 95 bottleneck at Garwood

The big Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho won’t have a two-lane bottleneck at its south end after all, the Idaho Transportation Board decided today. The board designated $15.8 million in economic stimulus funds toward expanding the stretch from Wyoming Avenue in Hayden to the Idaho 53 junction to four lanes; the money will come from savings after bids on other stimulus projects came in lower than expected. The Dover Bridge replacement alone came in $15.2 million below estimates; a freeway interchange in Boise came in $21.2 million low.

The highway already is four lanes south of Wyoming Avenue. But plans for the new freeway left a two-mile gap; legislation to fix that this year got shot down in last-minute scuffling between the House and Senate. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said, “Funneling traffic from four lanes to two lanes in this short section creates a real safety risk that needs to be eliminated.” He said, “Designating some of the savings from stimulus projects to this heavily traveled segment of U.S. 95 makes good sense.”

Low bids on highway projects are saving millions for Idaho

Idaho is saving tens of millions because construction bids on its big federal stimulus-funded highway projects - including the Dover Bridge in North Idaho and the Vista Interchange in Boise - are coming in so far under budget. The result: Instead of just the eight big projects around the state that are planned, Idaho should be able to add to its list, and a North Idaho bottleneck on U.S. Highway 95 could benefit. “They are very competitive bids, extremely competitive,” said Jeff Stratten, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department. “Contractors are eager and hungry to go to work, and their bids are reflecting it.” Said ITD board member Jim Coleman, “We’re getting five or six bids in places that we would get one or two before.”

The low bid for the Dover Bridge replacement project alone came in $15.2 million below the original budget estimate. The Vista Interchange on I-84 came in a whopping $21.2 million below the estimate. So far, five of the eight stimulus-funded projects have gone to bid, and the apparent low bids total $40.9 million less than the original estimates; there are still three more projects to go to bid in the next few weeks. Dozens of highway projects around the state could vie for a share of the savings - including the two-mile gap that’s been left unfunded at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho. That long-planned four-lane highway will end two miles shy of the existing four-lane highway at Hayden, creating a potential two-lane, two-mile bottleneck.

“Believe me, when somebody finds out we have some money that hasn’t been allocated, there will be projects that people will want,” said Darrell Manning, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board. “They’re all good projects, they’re all needed projects.” When the board first looked at candidates for stimulus funding, he said, “We had $800 million worth of projects.” After all eight stimulus projects have gone to bid, the ITD staff will develop a recommendation on candidates for the leftover money, and the transportation board will begin discussing which ones to pick as soon as July.

Several factors led to the lower bids, including a drop in prices for commodities like oil, asphalt and steel worldwide since the budget estimates first were developed, and pent-up demand for work among contractors in the region due to the tough economy. For the Dover Bridge replacement, ITD received five bids, all from contractors in the region. The lowest was $21.6 million from Sletten Construction of Great Falls, Mont.; the highest was $23.6 million from another Great Falls firm. All five were far below the $36.8 million budget. For the Vista Interchange, ITD received six bids, with the lowest, $17.8 million, from Central Paving Co. of Boise. The highest was $21.2 million from Idaho Sand and Gravel of Nampa; all six were far below the budget of $39 million. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

North Idaho freeway could include bottleneck

When the big Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on Highway 95 in North Idaho is completed, it may have a two-mile, two-lane bottleneck at its southern end before it reaches an existing four-lane highway at Hayden. The Idaho Transportation Board today reviewed an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that found that the board can’t adjust the project’s southern boundary without specific authorization from the state Legislature. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, proposed such legislation this year, but it died at the last minute in an end-of-session tiff between the House and the Senate.

Darrell Manning, ITD board chairman, said the board wants to expand the project to “what we all thought was the original terminus, but the law didn’t say that.” Said board member Bruce Sweeney, “This whole thing is crazy to start with - that’s where that whole project should’ve started in the first place.” ITD board member Gary Blick said the issue shows the danger of letting political pressure from the Legislature influence the state transportation board. “If our highway (system) becomes a political plum, we could have these kinds of things all over the state,” he said. “The professionals agree that it should be done, and the Legislature doesn’t.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

No change at the top at ITD

The Idaho Transportation Board wrapped up a two-day board meeting this afternoon, which included two executive sessions on personnel issues, without taking any action. That means they’re not making any change in directors; ITD Director Pam Lowe, who drew political flak this legislative session as lawmakers tangled with the administration over transportation funding, has been rumored to be leaving repeatedly in the past few months, but none of those rumors panned out. Lowe was at today’s meeting, which closed with board members discussing a new Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that says they can’t extend the Garwood-to-Sagle project on Highway 95 two miles at its south end without legislation. Such legislation was proposed this year, but failed to pass. If the project’s southern end isn’t extended, the new four-lane road would have a two-mile, two-lane bottleneck in its midst. “This is something we really messed up on and the Legislature messed up on,” said ITD board member Bruce Sweeney, “and we need to resurrect this. … It’s just stupidity, is what it is.”

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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