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U.S. 95 Gets Too Busy To Cross Businesses Balk As State Considers Blocking Median To Prevent Left Turns Onto Highway

It’s a merchant’s dream and a driver’s nightmare. Lots of cars, and more coming.

What’s also coming to U.S. Highway 95, Coeur d’Alene’s main north-south road, is gridlock. But city government and business leaders are balking at one of the proposed solutions to the snarls - ending left turns at five intersections.

The dimensions of the problem look like this. Between 1992 and 1994, the number of cars traveling through the intersection of U.S. Highway 95 and Appleway went from 25,000 a day to 32,000 a day. The load for U.S. 95 itself peaks at 45,000 cars a day in August.

The Idaho Department of Transportation expects those numbers to grow by an average of 8 percent a year during the next six to 10 years, said Jim Armitage, North Idaho’s traffic superintendent.

The traffic load, combined with an increasing number of accidents involving drivers making left turns from side streets onto U.S. 95, caught the attention of the Transportation Department. This fall, it started talking about the possibility of closing the median strip at five intersections. That would put an end to left turns where U.S. 95 intersects Haycraft Avenue, Cherry Lane, Bosanko, Wilbur Avenue and Aqua Avenue.

Concerned Businesses of North Idaho and the City Council immediately cried foul. Holiday Gas Co., a Minnesota-based operation, complained to the council because it is planning a gas station at Haycraft and U.S. 95. Existing businesses also trooped to a recent council meeting to join the anti-closure crowd.

“We need some justification for the community,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell said. “We don’t know if the solution will reduce the accident rates.”

Businesses put up part of the money for turn lanes on U.S. 95 at Bosanko in return for going along with the closure of the intersection at Sunset Lane. So it would seem wrong to turn around and close Bosanko now, Hassell said.

Pat Raffee, executive director of Concerned Businesses, said it’s unfair because “businesses select locations along that corridor especially to draw traffic to their facilities.” Decisions to close the intersections shouldn’t be made without careful study and public hearings, she said.

The Transportation Department is planning public hearings during the next few months. But no amount of input is likely to change reality.

U.S. 95 is getting plugged. With new banks, restaurants and grocery stores going up along the road, traffic problems will only get worse. The intersections in question are becoming more dangerous. At Bosanko, accidents jumped from one in 1994 to five so far this year.

Haycraft, just north of Appleway, is number one on the proposed closure list. That intersection had 12 accidents in 1994, and had seven by August of this year, said Tom Baker, district engineer for the Transportation Department’s North Idaho region. “There are more injury-type accidents than we would have at a typical intersection and they are more serious,” he said.

At Haycraft, most of the accidents occur when drivers turn left off that street onto U.S. 95. “They have to go all the way across the (highway) lanes - and have greater exposure,” Baker said.

In addition, as the traffic increases, drivers start taking more chances, he said.

There are 12 traffic lights on U.S. 95 between the Spokane River and Hayden - and there’s the potential for 20 more. The Transportation Department figures no one wants to deal with 30 traffic lights. So it proposed closing the median strips as one alternative for dealing with the traffic load, Baker said.

Doing nothing isn’t an alternative.

“We have a window of, in my opinion, six to 10 years to get something done,” said Transportation’s Armitage. “If we don’t, there will be severe problems.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Map of proposed intersection closures


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