They’ve been spotted on street corners all over Kootenai County the past month, looking hot, bored and staring at traffic.
But those teenagers slouching in lawn chairs aren’t bumming cigarettes.
Instead, they’re helping prevent future traffic gridlock.
About 18 high school and college students have been working part time around the county this summer counting cars at intersections for JUB Engineers Inc.
The firm has been hired by the Kootenai County Area Transportation Team to develop a computer model to help predict future traffic patterns.
Planners will be able to plug in information for a proposed development, and see how that will affect traffic in the surrounding area.
The counters are crucial to building a base line for the model.
While standard counting technology can count cars traveling in a straight line, the part-time workers are counting how many right or left turns are made at each intersection, and the number of pedestrians.
They count during the peak hours from 4 to 7 p.m., which also tends to be the hottest time of the day.
Ryan White, 19, and Dave Hill, 18, had a cooler full of soda at hand Wednesday while they listened to a radio and tallied the traffic with mechanical counters - a separate one for each lane - at Prairie Avenue and state Highway 41.
A driver leaned out his window and asked if the two were selling lemonade.
White said he’s heard a lot of curious inquiries in the three weeks he’s been counting cars.
“We get lots of looks,” he said. “Lots of people have asked if we have the petition to get the NIC (North Idaho College) president back in.”
NIC’s president Bob Bennett was forced to resign this spring by the college board of trustees, spawning a movement by some to get him reinstated.
“A lot have asked that,” White said.
Some drivers ask whether they’re bored, and now they can answer no. When the project started, the workers sat on opposite corners of an intersection. But after about a week of tedium, the workers started sitting on the same corner to keep each other company.
“It’s helped a lot,” White said.
Transportation planners say that the work JUB and its temporary workers conduct will help the cities, county and highway districts do better planning.
“If you don’t do it, you’ll end up with stumbling blocks that will become real problems for the community in the future,” said Rodger Lewerenz, Coeur d’Alene public works director.
Similar planning models have been developed for Canyon and Ada counties in southern Idaho, said Dale Baune of JUB Engineering.
“As your urban area grows, then you get more sophisticated for planning roadways and improvements,” Baune said.
Kootenai County already has had a huge growth spurt - 37 percent between 1990 and 1996. It’s the third-fastest-growing county in the state and the 32nd fastest in the nation.
While some could argue that a countywide traffic planning tool is overdue, “hindsight is always 20/20,” said Barbara Babic, of the Idaho Department of Transportation.
“Right now it’s really good to see all agencies working closely together and realizing that we’re all in it together,” she said.
The state Transportation Department gave the team a $100,000 grant for the $200,000 project. The cities, highway districts and other members of the team are paying the other half.
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