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Sunday, October 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Traffic changes proposed near NIC for education corridor

Plan part of larger vision for growing campus

Motorists stream through  the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and Hubbard Avenue in Coeur d’Alene on Thursday. A plan currently being considered calls for new traffic lights.  (Kathy Plonka)
Motorists stream through the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and Hubbard Avenue in Coeur d’Alene on Thursday. A plan currently being considered calls for new traffic lights. (Kathy Plonka)

Students and faculty will have more ways to come and go at the growing college campus northwest of downtown Coeur d’Alene if a new traffic plan is approved.

Designs show two new intersections with traffic signals connecting to Northwest Boulevard. The engineering plan developed by J-U-B Engineers and Landmark Architects also suggests adding four roundabouts within and near the North Idaho College campus to ease traffic flow, and reducing four-lane Mullan Road to two lanes with a center turn lane between Northwest Boulevard and the college entrance.

An open house will be held Wednesday to gather public input on the proposed changes.

The traffic plan is the latest step toward developing an education corridor stretching north from NIC, west of Northwest Boulevard and east of the Spokane River. Civic and education leaders envision expanding higher education offerings by using the land to create a college campus shared by several Idaho schools that would collaborate on offerings, providing seamless transitions among degree programs.

The proximity would allow for shared services, such as a student union and library, and the land would provide room to grow as enrollment expands. This year, NIC, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College labeled as their top funding priority a request to the state for $20.5 million to build a multiuse building that would be shared by all three schools. It would contain offices, classrooms, and student services such as registrar, admissions, financial aid and advising.

The recently completed traffic plan is one of the first concrete steps in building out the education corridor, following acquisition of a 17-acre chunk of land last summer by the North Idaho College Foundation. It was one of the final pieces of property necessary to connect the land targeted for the long-term project.

Following the open house, the traffic plan will be polished and submitted to the city of Coeur d’Alene by early October at the latest, said Brad Marshall, senior planner with J-U-B. The final plan would include cost estimates, which are still being developed, he said. If the plan is approved by the City Council, the next likely step would be to request funding from the city’s urban renewal agency, the Lake City Development Corp.

However, Mayor Sandi Bloem said other meetings will take place and more input gathered before the traffic plan makes it onto the council’s agenda. Many stakeholders would need to weigh in before the plan moves forward, Bloem said.

“We’re certainly a ways from knowing what funding would take place at this point,” she said.

LCDC board Chairman Denny Davis said that if the plan is approved, it would “morph itself into a funding request to us.” The proposed traffic changes further the push for the education corridor and “would be an immediate relief to serious traffic congestion over there,” Davis said.

NIC has two main entrances and exits that lead motorists through a residential neighborhood. An additional, unimproved entrance and exit exists at Hubbard Avenue. The limited access has created growing congestion as the student population has grown. Last fall’s record enrollment of 5,659 students was a 16.5 percent increase over the year before. Enrollment numbers for this fall are due out today.

The traffic plan calls for extending River Avenue as a two-way street to Northwest Boulevard and placing a traffic signal there. Another signal would be placed at Hubbard’s intersection with Northwest Boulevard. College Drive would be extended from River to a midway point on Hubbard. All the new and improved streets would be upgraded to include medians, bicycle and walking lanes, and landscaping.

Roundabouts would be placed at the intersections of Hubbard and River, College and Hubbard, and College and River. A roundabout also would be placed at Mullan and Park Drive to ease traffic flow through the college and Fort Grounds neighborhood.

Mullan west from Northwest Boulevard to the entrance of the college would become two lanes with a median and center turn lane. A paved walking trail stretching from River Avenue to the wastewater treatment plant would be eliminated and replaced with a Centennial Trail extension along Northwest Boulevard in the railroad grade abandoned by BNSF Railway Co.

In addition, space for public art would be created, potentially at the new intersections with Northwest Boulevard and in the center of the roundabouts.

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