A route that brought the first settlers to Idaho and helped establish the state's first community will be ceremonially reopened this week after an 18-month reconstruction project.
The ceremony, featuring city officials from Preston and Franklin, a state legislator and local historian, is planned at the Franklin city park adjacent to the highway, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Members of the Idaho Transportation Board will attend the ceremony as part of their tour of highway construction projects in southeast Idaho. The board's monthly business meeting is scheduled for Thursday in Pocatello.
Wednesday's ceremony will include the national anthem performed by the Preston High School Band, comments from State Rep. Larry Bradford, Preston Mayor Neal Larson, Franklin Mayor Bob Wilkinson, and a historical perspective by Brenton Atkinson, president of the Franklin Pioneer Association.
Frank Bruneel, chairman of the transportation board, will preside over the ceremony as emcee.
The route, which eventually became U.S. 91, was first used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in efforts to expand north of Salt Lake City. As part of the church expansion, members settled in an area they believed to be northern Utah. In fact, the location was just beyond the state line and ultimately became Idaho's first established community, Franklin.
A project to expand and rebuild an eight-mile segment of U.S. 91 from Preston to the Idaho-Utah state line was officially completed early this month. The new highway aligns with a similar project completed in 2005 by the Utah Department of Transportation. U.S. 91 now is a four-lane highway from Preston to Logan, Utah.
The highway is an important commuter corridor, carrying workers from southern Idaho to businesses and work sites in Logan. An average of 5,900 vehicles travel the route daily; by year 2025 the daily traffic count is expected to be nearly 7,600. Completion of the new highway reduces by almost one-half the 20-mile commute time that frequently required 45 minutes to make.
Construction crews from LeGrand Construction Co. of Logan encountered a number of challenges in completing the Idaho segment of the highway. While excavating, they discovered a buried railroad trestle and abandoned culverts, along with other historically significant treasures.
Highway designers also preserved an old pea vinery at Whitney by excluding it from the final highway route.
ITD purchased the old Hobbs hayfield north of Franklin and constructed a wetland as part of the highway project. The project restored the original use of the land and helped mitigate for several smaller wetland areas that were assumed as part of the highway construction.
The transportation department also worked closely with owners of a gas pipeline to include it in the right-of-way under the highway, thus preventing costly relocation of the pipe.
The public is encouraged to join ITD representatives and local officials to celebrate the formal reopening of the highway.