Fernan Lake Road, one of Idaho’s most dangerous roadways, will be rebuilt beginning in 2008.
Although the project will cost at least $1 million for each of the nearly 11 miles being rebuilt, federal officials believe the work will prevent at least 180 crashes over the next two decades, according to estimates from the Federal Highway Administration.
After years of discussion and debate, the agency recently announced the new road would follow essentially the same path as the existing route. Officials had also considered a new route farther from the lake.
Following the existing route provides the greatest safety benefits with the least impact on the lake, which is already suffering from algae blooms and an abundance of sediment, said Sajid Aftab, project manager with the Federal Highway Administration’s office in Vancouver, Wash. The new road is expected to reduce the number of crashes by as much as 62 percent, according to the agency.
“Safety is the main issue,” Aftab said.
Aftab said the route was also the unanimous choice of the Federal Highway Administration’s partner agencies: the Eastside Highway District, the Idaho Transportation Department and the U.S. Forest Service. Because the road is part of the Forest Service network, the federal government is in charge of the project and is picking up the $11 million to $15 million tab. Construction will take about two years, Aftab said.
The fjord-like lake is just east of Coeur d’Alene and is a popular destination for anglers, boaters and sightseers. The curvy, narrow road was built in the 1930s and follows the northern shoreline of the lake. The route is the most heavily used roadway in the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District of the Forest Service.
The 10.7-mile rebuild project includes widening the first segment of the roadway to 25 feet, but there was not enough space between the rocky hillside and the lake to accommodate a request from cyclists for a dedicated pathway, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s record of decision. Cyclists have complained about being driven off the road by logging trucks and careless motorists.
Although a contractor has not yet been chosen for the project, the federal government has already released a long list of construction requirements aimed at minimizing impacts to the lake and nearby residents. The road runs within a half mile of a bald eagle nest, which has produced fledglings each year since 1999. Any blasting or pile driving near the nest will require the approval of a federal biologist. Another stipulation bans any excavation or filling along the lake during westslope cutthroat trout spawning season – the contractor must also attempt to somehow scare fish away from the area before blasting occurs next to the lake. The report does not specify the preferred method of frightening the fish.
The project also includes a new 387-foot-long bridge across Lilypad Bay and a restoration of portions of Fernan Creek. The creek is an important spawning area for fish, but has been largely blocked by the current roadway Aftab said.
Officials with the Federal Highway Administration will meet with local landowners and residents on Sept. 28 to discuss the project. Aftab said estimates are not yet ready on how much private land will need to be acquired to widen portions of the road.
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