Sandpoint’s half-century-long battle over the proposed Sand Creek Byway appears to be finished.
After an appeal was turned down last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, state transportation officials said the contractor could begin work within a month to reroute U.S. Highway 95 around downtown Sandpoint.
“Everybody has been holding their breath on this one. We are pleased,” said Barbara Babic, spokeswoman for the Idaho Transportation Department. “There will always be some opposition to this project. But the Bonner County community has really supported this project. It’s time we got started on it.”
Commuters, including logging trucks and cattle haulers, currently must navigate three 90-degree turns through downtown. The choke-points slow traffic and endanger pedestrians.
However, the plan for the 2.1-mile bypass will require contractors to dredge and fill parts of Sand Creek. The route will send traffic across a new bridge spanning the creek, then follow a BNSF Railway line on the east side of the creek to the intersection of U.S. 95 and U.S. Highway 2, Babic said.
The plan has been discussed since the 1950s and the first environmental impact statement was done in 1972. The current environmental statement was completed in 1999, Babic said.
While many people supported the project, the opposition has been strong and organized. The North Idaho Community Action Network sued to stop the project in 2005.
“The proposed highway would transform the picturesque waterfront of Sandpoint into an elevated, three-lane interstate,” attorney Matthew Bishop, with the Western Environmental Law Center, said earlier this month.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge threw out the lawsuit in March, which prompted the appeal. Construction was set to begin this summer but the 9th Circuit issued an injunction pending the appeal. But the 9th Circuit ruled with the state, prompting officials to forge ahead with the $98 million project.
As court challenges mounted against the project, so has the cost.
According to newspaper archives, the estimated price of the project has nearly quadrupled in the past eight years.
The Sand Creek Byway was expected to cost $25 million in 2001. The cost escalated to $45 million in 2003. Last year the state estimated the work at $70 million and the current price tag is $98 million even though the route has not changed.
“It will be at least a three-year project and we consider it a year-round construction project,” Babic said. “Some things need to be done during the winter, such as dredging.”
Traffic should not be impacted until crews begin work to tie the bypass into the existing U.S. 95 intersections, she said.
“We intend on holding weekly meetings that the public is invited to attend to keep residents up to speed on the construction schedule We’ll be meeting with business owners on First Avenue because there will be impacts during the life of the project.”
Barring delays, the project could be completed in late 2011, she said.
Maple Street to reopen
Although crews lost a day to rain last week, city officials still hope to open Maple Street on Friday from downtown to a new concrete intersection at Northwest Boulevard.
Crews will work this week to complete that intersection and paving on Maple, city engineer Ken Brown said. City officials also are expected to hold some sort of ceremony to mark the end of the two-year project to reconstruct Ash and Maple streets from Second to Francis avenues.
“We are shooting for (Friday) but we might have to wait until the following Monday,” Brown said.
Commuters should be aware of a closure coming Wednesday that should last two weeks on Strong Road from Five Mile Road to Maple Street.
Contractors will work on water and sewer lines, so Strong Road trafficwill be detoured to Maple Street and then onto Johansen Road, city streets spokeswoman Ann Deasy said.
On Thursday, crews will be closing Third Avenue along Interstate 90. Eastbound I-90 on- and off-ramps at Altamont Street will be closed for the week, Brown said.
Freya/Thor exits will remain open.
Slowdown for stripers
Starting Tuesday, crews with the Idaho Transportation Department will begin painting stripes on both sides of Interstate 90 from Coeur d’Alene to the Montana state line, Babic said.
“The speed limit will not be reduced, but we ask people to use caution and be aware,” she said. “They will be alternating lanes.”
And to the north of Coeur d’Alene, work is continuing on widening U.S. 95 to four lanes between State Highway 53 and Ohio Match Road.
“The contractor is putting down temporary pavement so they can move traffic to one side so they can work on the other side,” Babic said. “The speed has been reduced to 55 mph through the work area.”
Work is expected to last until late 2009. However, delays could push back completion until the next construction season, she said.
County opening, closing
Commuters north of Spokane will get some relief as crews have finally completed work on Denison Chattaroy Road, a popular route between U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 395, said Spokane County construction engineer Paul Lennemann.
“I still have to do some planting and hydro-seeding , so I may have some lane or shoulder closures,” Lennemann said. “But otherwise, it’s fair game.”
Starting Tuesday, crews will be closing lanes and directing traffic on Medical Lake Highway, or State Route 902. Crews will be working to install railroad tracks across the highway about a half-mile west of Craig Road, Lennemann said.
Commuters can expect delays of about five minutes until work is completed in about three weeks, he said.
Post Falls slowdown
Crews in Post Falls will begin paving Mullan Avenue this week. Commuters and property owners should expect delays and some access restrictions, city spokesman Kit Hoffer said.
The contractor will be paving and widening the north half of Mullan from State Highway 41 to Greensferry Road.
“Access to individual properties along the north side of Mullan Avenue will be restricted at various times and for periods of up to two to three hours to allow the placement of asphalt,” Hoffer said.
Once work is completed on the north half, traffic lanes will be adjusted to allow crews to do the same thing to the southern half of Mullan, he said.
For more information on the project, visit www.postfallsidaho.org