Looking out her office window has become an exercise in cringing, Joan Benson said.
The office manager at RE/MAX Preferred Realtors, located along Northwest Boulevard, said the approach to Coeur d’Alene has become more than just one of the city’s most-traveled corridors. She thinks it’s getting downright dangerous.
After watching daily misses from her desk, she’s grown a little leery driving the strip herself.
“You start looking into your rearview mirror about a block ahead of time,” she said. “Some people just keep going.”
In one week last August - the busiest of traffic months - she witnessed four accidents, all of them rear-end collisions.
And she isn’t the only one.
“I have bad memories,” said Rick Brown.
The vice president of Alliance Title & Escrow is sitting in his company’s new offices at 1270 Northwest Center Court, recalling his old location along Northwest Boulevard.
Alliance Title didn’t move because of the accidents. Just the same, Brown said, it’s nice to be away.
“When it would get icy and you were making that left turn in, then there were accidents constantly,” he said. “And I know my employees were very concerned. In summer, it was a ritual. You’d go out and see the fender benders.”
With hot weather on the way, Benson and Brown would like to see either a new left-hand turn lane or at least a reduction in the 45-mph speed limit.
Idaho Department of Transportation spokesperson Barbara Babic said officials are well aware of residents’ concerns.
Since 1992, there have been 207 reported accidents between Appleway and Garden avenues; 97 of the accidents were rear-end collisions, while 92 were angle mishaps that typically resulted from people entering faster traffic on Northwest Boulevard from sidestreets.
There was just one fatality, when a North Idaho College student pulled onto Northwest Boulevard from Lincoln Avenue and was struck by an oncoming delivery van. The Lincoln entry has since been closed.
Babic said a variety of traffic studies on Northwest Boulevard have determined that the 45 mph speed limit isn’t the problem now.
“There is nothing arbitrary about speed limits,” she said. “Before we post any speed limits, we do a study about what is appropriate.”
Babic also said she didn’t expect any projects to re-stripe Northwest Boulevard and create a left-turn lane for drivers entering the city center from the north, but pointed to a $6.5 million project planned for 1999 to expand the I-90 overpass into multiple lanes and to redesign the freeway on-and-off ramps there.
That’ll take care of a big part of the problem, said Coeur d’Alene Police Lt. Greg Surplus. He’d just driven the area on Friday afternoon, and watched the traffic signal complete four cycles before he was able to exit Appleway and enter Northwest Boulevard.
“Because of the bottleneck, traffic doesn’t have any time to spread out before it gets to Northwest,” Surplus said.
Surplus encouraged people using Northwest Boulevard to drive more defensively along the stretch - as well as to take the time to evaluate the best route to reach their destinations within the city.
It may be good advice, but for people like Benson, who has to drive Northwest Boulevard every day to get to work - and must watch traffic speed by from the office windows - it isn’t always practical.
She’s still hoping to see a left-hand turn lane, especially with tourist season almost here.
“In the summer, we see a lot of accidents,” she said. “People speed up in the summer. It’s just human nature. But it’s something that needs to be improved before somebody gets killed.”
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