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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Our View: Plan for U.S. 95 looks good, but public input crucial

What difference has Kootenai County’s dramatic population growth made? Look no further than U.S. Highway 95 between Coeur d’Alene and Hayden.

Yes, growing commercial truck traffic from Canada is partly to blame for the congestion there. But as transportation planning engineer Carole Richardson, of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, puts it, local growth is the main culprit.

Idaho state transportation officials have struggled to come up with a response that’s appropriate and affordable. A four-lane freeway from Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene, included in former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s 2005 budget, was wildly unpopular. The long-term solution – the Huetter bypass linking Interstate 90 west of Coeur d’Alene to U.S. 95 north of Hayden – is pricey and 30 years off.

In the meantime, exasperated local motorists sit on east-west streets and fume through multiple traffic signal sequences before they can cross or turn onto U.S. 95.

So the search for a short-term answer has come down to a proposal that will be aired at a public meeting this evening in Coeur d’Alene. The access management study will also be presented to the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, but tonight’s gathering will be the last chance for the public to comment on the plan before it’s sent on to the Idaho Transportation Board for a decision.

Residents who care about the way traffic will be managed along the heavily traveled corridor should take advantage of the chance to air opinions and ask questions.

At present, the plan looks like a reasonable compromise that recognizes the concerns of various stakeholders. Motorists want safety and expediency. Business owners want easy access. Sometimes those interests are in conflict, so some people will have to make concessions.

An earlier approach would have simply closed several of the intersections. Eliminating crossings would reduce collisions, certainly, but local drivers still need to cross the highway, or get on or off. And customers need access to businesses, even if that means turning left during one of those rare gaps in traffic.

The $6.7 million plan deals with those concerns with a combination of turn lanes and better-synchronized signals. Nobody knows yet where the $6.7 million will come from, but given the tension this challenge has posed in the past, the money may be a secondary problem.

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