Roads, bridges and guitars
Transportation engineer talks about his job and his band

John O’Connell
Idaho State Journal
Ed Bala is the district engineer with the Idaho Transportation Department for District 5, which covers an area from Utah to Idaho Falls, east to Wyoming and west to Raft River.

Q. How long have you lived in Pocatello and what brought you here?
A. Thirteen years now. I got a promotion for my job. I had been working for ITD in the Rigby office before that.

Q. What are your responsibilities?
A. We’re responsible to design, build and maintain the state highway system throughout District 5. There’s about 1,850 lane miles of road and 176 bridges that we maintain and operate.

Q. How are we doing?
A. I think we’re holding our own. ITD actually grades all of its infrastructure. The goal of ITD is about 18 percent deficient pavement, and we’re sitting at 9 percent.

Q. How are we doing so well in such a bad economy?
A. We are lucky because a lot of our traffic goes on U.S. 30, and in that corridor we just made a significant investment through the GARVEE bond process. Those are funds where the government sells bonds and builds improvement now. That has really helped us. U.S. 30 is where a lot of our bad pavement used to be because of truck traffic.

Q. How about the bridges?
A. We say we don’t want to have any more than seven weight-restricted bridges throughout the state. Right now, we’re at nine, but none of them are in our area. But I would caution people that the bridges are aging, for sure.

Q. What are the ongoing projects with local ITD?
A. We are replacing the interchange bridge at American Falls – $8 million. We will start a project this summer to replace the one at McCammon. That one is about $9.5 million. They’re designing a replacement for the Chubbuck Interchange now. We’ll do that in the summer of 2013. Some of the oldest bridges in Idaho’s interstate system are in Southeast Idaho because, believe it or not, they started building the interstate in Idaho in Southeast Idaho.

Q. You did a stimulus job on I-15 and I-86 in the busy parts of Pocatello and Chubbuck. What’s the update on that, and have you won over some of the business owners who were critical of perceived project delays?
A. What’s left is to finish one bridge on I-86, and that’s the bridge over the railroad, and they’ll start that in April or May, as soon as the weather is a little warmer. I hope we won over some of our critics. I don’t know.

Q. How has the winter gone for ITD regarding snow removal budget, bad accidents and road closures?
A. We actually quantify that, believe it or not. Our numerical performance score was 0.37. We hope to be at 0.5 or less. We’re pretty happy. For any individual storm, the average time there was any kind of snow or ice on the road was about nine hours. We try to get that a little better every year. Several years ago our grades used to be in the 0.7s. We’re trying to be a little more proactive getting chemicals on the road in advance of the storms. I think our crash rate is down a little this winter. We haven’t closed any roads this winter in District 5, except for Highway 34 on Thanksgiving.

Q. Have you blown through your budget?
A. We’ve actually spent about everything we had allocated for winter. The price of diesel has gone up. That’s OK because our main mission is winter. When we spend a little more on diesel fuel in the winter, we just spend a little less in the summer.

Q. Tell me about yourself?
A. I’ve been married to Janet for 17 years. She is a curatorial assistant at the Idaho Museum of Natural History and a botanist, too. I like to go downhill skiing and cross country skiing. I like to ride my mountain bike, and we’re really avid whitewater rafters. The last thing is I play guitar and sing in Bender, a local Pocatello bar band you can catch from time to time. Our world tour in 2009 was Inkom and Pocatello – it was awesome, dude.

Q. Where can I catch Bender next?
A. The next place we play is at Earth Day festival in April.

Published 4-1-2011