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Segmentation will make Idaho 75 improvements tough

By Pat Murphy
Mountain Express

Improving 25 miles of state Highway 75 from Ketchum south to the Timmerman Junction at U.S. 20 will proceed at two speeds—slow or slower.

This seemed to be the message Thursday, Jan. 29, when two Idaho Transportation Department officials briefed the Wood River Regional Transportation Committee.

The $107 million project is complicated by a series of some eight separate segments, each requiring environmental study, separate engineering and design, rights-of-way land acquisition in some cases and incremental funding—all before construction starts.

ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby and Charles Carnohan, a senior environmental planner, outlined the project’s current status as well as funding realities.

How long the project is from completion will depend on how fast required pre-construction stages are completed and approved and funds are made available.

Carnohan said that by April, the first phase of an environmental impact statement on the Highway 75 project will be completed. Then, after a series of public hearings, the final EIS statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act should be completed and approved by November or December.

But construction still is years away, Carnohan said.

Funding requests must be renewed each year for project segments whose individual costs range between $3.5 million to $18.5 million each, he said.

Carnohan estimates that under the pace of current congressional funding, $22 million of work would be approved by 2005 and the remaining $85 million in work would be approved between 2006 and 2009 – provided no hitches develop.

"It gives me the creeps to think (Highway 75 improvements) would be under construction for 20 years," Carnohan said.

However, a possible funding complication may have developed since last week’s briefing.

President Bush was reported by The New York Times on Sunday to have decided to oppose a Republican and Democratic plan in Congress to spend $375 billion over the next six years on highway work, which would exceed available gasoline tax funds by $100 billion.

Instead, the president reportedly would trim spending back to $251 billion. White House sources say the president would veto the congressional level of funding. Whether this reduction would affect the Highway 75 project won’t be known until appropriations bills are approved.

Idaho’s Republican congressional delegation, which ultimately would lobby for the state’s share of highway dollars, is being kept abreast of project progress. Linda Norris, an aide to Sen. Mike Crapo, joined in the briefing by conference telephone from her Twin Falls office.

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael also told the committee that "people don't want to just see a highway" widened and improved. "They want options – such as buses."

She mentioned the possibility that rather than continue a lease arrangement for buses for the Peak Bus commuter service, Blaine County might arrange for the purchase of a bus for the service and ask the city of Ketchum’s KART office to manage and operate the system.

Last week’s meeting also ran into a procedural snag: only three of the regional transportation committee’s 10 voting members showed up—Ketchum City Councilman Randy Hall, who is the committee’s chair; Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorsen and Blaine County Commission Chairman Dennis Wright.

Without a quorum, the committee was unable to act on several items of business.