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Two major Highway 95 improvements in North Idaho approved for funding

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 18, 2017, 7:26 p.m.

driver waits to turn onto U.S. Highway 95 where the four-lane freeway ends, just south of the Kootenai-Bonner county line on Friday, April l7, 2017. That stretch of road is one of two major construction projects on U.S. 95 in North Idaho that were approved for funding this week from the a transportation bill that Idaho lawmakers passed, which includes $300 million in new highway bonding. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
driver waits to turn onto U.S. Highway 95 where the four-lane freeway ends, just south of the Kootenai-Bonner county line on Friday, April l7, 2017. That stretch of road is one of two major construction projects on U.S. 95 in North Idaho that were approved for funding this week from the a transportation bill that Idaho lawmakers passed, which includes $300 million in new highway bonding. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Two major upgrades to U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho were approved for funding this week by the Idaho Transportation Board.

The projects would:

Extend the four-lane freeway from where it ends on the north now, just south of the Kootenai-Bonner county line, another 1.6 miles to the top of Granite Hill, realigning a dangerous, twisting stretch of the road.

Build a new interchange at the intersection of state Highway 53 and U.S. 95 at Garwood, just north of Coeur d’Alene, and add frontage roads, remove two at-grade signals, and make other improvements.

Construction could start as soon as 2019. The funding approval allows design, right-of-way purchases and other preliminary work to start.

Both projects were approved for funding from Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, or GARVEE bonds. The Idaho Legislature this year approved $300 million in new GARVEE bonding, which allows states to borrow against their future federal highway allocations. Half of that $300 million already has been designated to congested Interstate 84 through Canyon County west of Boise.

The same type of bonding was used to pay for the first half of the Garwood-to-Sagle corridor project, a $150.4 million construction project that was completed in 2015, and turned the first half of the trip from Garwood to Sagle, just south of Sandpoint, into a four-lane, divided highway. The project is supposed to eventually continue all the way to Sagle, but this is the first time it’s going any further than where it stopped in 2015.

Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the portions of the corridor that already have been upgraded are now much safer to drive. “I travel that road a lot – it’s a huge difference,” he said. As for the 1.6 mile extension on the north at Granite Hill, Redman said, “I wish they would’ve even taken it a little bit further.”

The Granite Hill project is now estimated to cost $23 million, up about half a million from the estimates at the end of this year’s legislative session. Idaho Transportation Department spokesman Vince Trimboli said as construction approaches, the cost estimates are getting more precise. In addition to realigning and widening the roadway, the project requires extensive rock excavation and drainage improvements.

The State Highway 53 interchange and frontage roads were estimated to cost $23.5 million, but the Transportation Board added on projects envisioned in the original corridor plan, including building an overpass over both Highway 95 and the UP Railroad in the area and replacing the at-grade signal at Garwood Road a mile north of the interchange; that brought the total cost estimate up to $41 million.

The Board also backed a $1 million environmental study on extending I-84 improvements from Karcher Road to Franklin Road in Caldwell. Environmental studies already have been completed in the Garwood-to-Sagle corridor, which is why the Highway 95 projects are ready for construction funding.

With the Board’s action, $215 million of the $300 million in GARVEE bonding now has been committed to specific projects.