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Fixing U.S. 95 Called A Matter Of Life And Death

Yvonne Mayhew’s son, daughter-in-law and grandson were injured recently when their pickup plunged down an embankment off U.S. Highway 95.

Her emotional comments before the Idaho Transportation Board on Friday bolstered many other pleas for improvements to the stretch of pavement between Mica and Worley.

The Coeur d’Alene woman is afraid to drive south to see her son and his family, who live near the infamously narrow and winding road.

“Do what you can, please,” Mayhew said to commissioners at their meeting in Coeur d’Alene. “My children’s lives depend on it.”

Over the past two days, delegations from Panhandle communities took advantage of the board’s meeting in Coeur d’Alene to make requests and occasionally say “thanks.”

As for the Mica-Worley route, the commissioners’ response was sympathetic, but not optimistic. The best they could offer in the next three years was the addition of some truck lanes.

There’s no money available for major widening and straightening, although the issue comes up every year in the Legislature.

“We should at least start studying it,” said commissioner Monte McClure. “We should start figuring out what we have to do.”

Mayhew was one of several area residents who spoke up about the Mica-Worley stretch. Coeur d’Alene’s Chamber of Commerce and mayor did, too.

Ruth Rathbun of the Greater St. Joe Development Foundation came armed with several testimonials from trucking companies whose drivers brave the road every day.

The lack of a turning lane and the visual distraction of an elk farm have made the Rockford Bay turnoff especially dangerous, Rathbun said. Expansion of Coeur d’Alene Tribal Bingo facilities will bring even more traffic.

The commissioners also heard that:

After decades of discussion the vast majority of Sandpoint residents support a bypass route for the highway along Sand Creek. City councilman Ray Miller said the bypass should be built as quickly as possible in order to get slow and dangerous truck traffic out of the heart of town.

The Icicle Cliffs stretch of state Highway 200, near Clark Fork, is in urgent need of improvement. The number of fatal accidents is so high, said Art Radcliffe, that the local ambulance crew got a grant to buy “jaws of life” equipment on the basis of that alone.

The bridge across the Clark Fork River is an old railroad trestle with wooden planks. It needs replacing. Bonner County can’t afford the $6 million job on its own, said county commissioner Dale Van Stone.

The vitality of fast-growing Post Falls depends on getting improvements to the Interstate 90 exits at Pleasant View Road and at state Highway 41, according to city manager Jim Hammond. Those exits serve the areas crucial to the businesses that can provide a healthy tax base for the city, he said.

Bonners Ferry residents are pleased about the North Hill project, which will widen and straighten U.S. 95. But they apparently think it’s too good to be true that the on-again, off-again improvements finally are going to happen.

“If you get into a budget crunch in fiscal ‘98, you keep that high on the list,” said Bob Graham of the Chamber of Commerce.

Regional engineer Scott Stokes assured him the project was on-line for next summer.

In other good news, the commissioners heard about the Kootenai Area Transportation Team. The 11-agency cooperative effort is writing a plan that supporters hope will be a blueprint for Kootenai County roads well into the future.

“It’s probably a leading-edge effort in the whole state,” said Dwight Bower, Transportation Department director.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo