Eastern Idaho authorities want their roads repaired quickly after the June floods, but they conceded Monday they are concerned about how long it will take to secure federal dollars toward that effort.
The state Department of Transportation reopened the two southbound lanes on Interstate 15 Monday morning to accommodate two-way traffic. They have been closed since June 13 when the swollen Snake River poured over the major north-south route.
But, it may be months before construction can begin on the northbound interstate lanes. Since the flood struck, traffic has clogged a 22-mile detour along U.S. Highway 91.
“Our concern is that water destroyed the banks and dikes and water is still flowing across the county out of the river until it reaches the dike at the north bank,” said Brent Frank, district engineer for the Idaho Department of Transportation.
“Until the water is diverted back to the riverbed we can’t open that northbound lane. It’s just that simple.”
Frank said the Snake is considered a navigable river, which is normally maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the corps may require matching funds from the counties or flood control districts to pay for repairs.
Bingham County Commissioner Wayne Brower hopes the corps will accept responsibility for repairing the dikes, which it built several years ago, but he is unsure of the outcome.
“Right now, they’re a project-oriented corps,” Brower said. “If there’s a project they approve, it takes several years for it to be funded and worked on.”
County officials warn they do not have that much patience.
It is possible that federal flood relief, if approved, could be used to work on the dikes and banks so that water could be re-diverted into its channel, and road construction could begin.
But if all that fails, it will be up to residents to raise money for channel repair.
“If a third of those living in flooded areas sign a petition, a flood district can be established,” Brower said. “At that point we’ll highly encourage them to do that.”
For the first time since June 7, the Snake River at Shelley dropped below flood level on Sunday. The flow fell to 11.67 feet, with flood stage at 12 feet, said Mark Croghan, Bureau of Reclamation hydraulic engineer.
Flows from Palisades Dam were cut to 23,000 cubic feet per second on Monday, Croghan said.
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