Mudslides, flooding and avalanches closed three of Idaho’s major highways within days of the Legislature convening and the University of Idaho reopening.
Chuck Winder, the chairman of Idaho’s Transportation Department Board, is stranded in McCall because of slides and washouts on U.S. Highway 12 and Idaho Highway 55. Mike Mitchell, the Lewiston area representative to that board, also is stuck in McCall.
Six Transportation Department workers also are stranded because of problems with the two roads.
There are a dozen slides and washouts on U.S. Highway 95 between Riggins and Weiser and any one of them would have closed the highway, said Bill Dermody, Transportation Department spokesman. High water took out a 1,000-foot section of road south of Riggins.
It’s the worst damage to U.S. 95 in memory. “From all indications, it will get worse because it is still raining,” Dermody said.
Rep. Larry Watson, D-Wallace, says the second closure of U.S. 95 in a couple of months ought to arm North Idaho legislators for the fight to improve the highway. He will drive through Washington and Oregon to get to Boise for the start of the Legislative session Monday.
“It almost seems silly that you have to pass through two other states to get to the capital of your own state,” Watson said.
Gov. Phil Batt, Transportation Director Dwight Bower and Gen. John Kane, director of Disaster Services, flew over the damage on U.S. 95 and Idaho 55 Thursday.
Crews hope to reopen U.S. 12, the major route between Lewiston and Missoula, sometime today. Mudslides between Greer and Kamiah and avalanches between Lowell and Powell closed that route a few days ago.
His people have been working since Christmas Eve in the area, said Devin Rigby, a Transportation Department engineer out of Lewiston.
Kootenai County seems to be faring better, with high water working over several roads. But the only major closure is Idaho Highway 97 between Wolf Lodge and Harrison.
Road crews are working around the clock. Herb Heisel, road supervisor at the Post Falls Highway District, was called out at 1:30 a.m. New Year’s Day and has been running from problem to problem ever since. That on top of weeks of keeping roads open for utility crews to repair downed power lines.
The Eastside Highway District is reporting no closures “but there are quite a few roads that are barely drivable,” said Ken Renner, road superintendent.
The Lakes Highway District tackled a slide on Nettleton Gulch Road Wednesday and had it opened to one lane of traffic by the end of the day Wednesday, said Joe Wuest, assistant road superintendent.
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