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Highway concerns aired at meeting

Weiser Signal American of Weiser, Idaho

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ITD engineer hears from local officials about safety issues on U.S. 95

Idaho Department of Transportation officials said they will come back to Weiser in October after they have studied what can be done to make U.S. Highway 95 safer.

IDT officials spent about 90 minutes at the Vendome on Aug. 18 listening to local officials express their concerns about the 12-mile stretch of highway between Weiser and Payette.

The meeting was described by ITD as strictly an information-gathering session only.

District 9 Rep. Ryan Kerby pushed for the meeting and said he had "stirred up" the ITD. State Sen. Abby Lee, who represents Weiser in the state Legislature, also attended. Joining the two state lawmakers were city and county officials, school district superintendent and city and county law enforcement.

Kerby said ITD officials are listening to the concerns of local officials. He said he won't settle for anything less than passing lanes added to the highway.

Kerby previously said it is the neediest road in his legislative district from Parma to New Meadows.

Most of the discussion with ITD officials centered on safety issues on the highway. Right now, there are no improvements scheduled for U.S. 95 between Weiser and Payette. The ITD has not programmed any work on U.S. 95 into the five-year road improvement plan.

Washington County Commissioner Tom Anderson attended the meeting and said he wanted to get ITD's attention so that U.S. 95 improvements could be funded in the agency's 2020 work plan.

Anderson echoed other concerns already raised and added a few.

He said the highway is getting busier as ITD tries to encourage more use of U.S. 95 as a route to Cascade and McCall to take some of the traffic pressure off Highway 55. He said traffic coming through Weiser on U.S. 95 from the mountains to the north is increasing.

He said ruts in the highway were a problem. They fill up with water when it's raining and can cause hydroplaning.

Anderson said Weiser is an agriculture community and during the harvest the highway can see lots of trucks and farm implements on the road. There is no place to pass slow-moving farm equipment and no place to turn off the highway. Lowering the speed limit from the current 65 mph also might be an option.

"Those were the concerns that I brought up," he said.

Washington County Sheriff Matt Thomas also raised safety concerns with the stretch of U.S. 95 between Payette and Weiser.

He said in addition to passing lanes, the highway should have turn lanes at busy intersections, such as at Crystal Lane, so a driver doesn't have to sit in traffic or block the highway waiting to turn.

He said there should be more room on the shoulders of the highway so motorists call pull off and out of traffic.

"It should be looked at and something needs to be done with it," he said about the highway.

Weiser schools superintendent Wil Overgaard said school buses travel the highway on a daily basis. There is no place to pull over if the bus driver needs to get off the road. The shoulders are narrow and there are no turnouts or passing lanes. He said drivers are always in a hurry to get around buses.

Overgaard said the highway between Payette and Weiser has ruts in the road that collect water and freeze in the winter. He said he, like many motorists, drives to the far right of the lane to stay out of them.

Overgaard offered some personal reflections on why upgrades to the highway are needed. In 21 years of working at the Weiser School District, seven students or former students have been killed on U.S. 95 in accidents. The road to the county seat is in need of upgrades.

"I think it has more than its fair share of accidents," he said after the meeting.

District 3 Engineer Amy Revis, who attended the meeting in Weiser, said ITD wanted to hear from people who drive the highway everyday.

"We are trying to get information and understand people's concerns," she said.

She said the meeting was the "very beginning" of the process to gather data on the stretch of highway between Weiser and Payette and look at the hazards.

She made no promises to those who voiced their concerns about the highway. She said ITD will come up with options and share those with local stakeholders.

Nothing would happen overnight even if ITD agreed to put in some passing lanes. It takes three to four years to do the required studies and then the design and engineering and the rights of way. It's unknown if passing lanes could be built on the west side of the highway along the railroad track right of way.

Local officials previously have said that U.S. 95, which runs the length of Idaho and is a major road connecting Canada to Mexico, has been improved north and south of Weiser but nothing's been done between Payette and Weiser.

Weiser Mayor Diana Thomas said she told ITD officials that traffic has increased on the highway, both cars and trucks, and that was evident when the bridge across the Weiser River was replaced.

She said 65 miles an hour is too fast on the stretch of U.S. 95 between Weiser and Payette, particularly during certain times of the year like hunting season or harvest season when truck traffic is heavier. The speed limit was lowered from Fruitland to the 1-84 exchange, and that stretch of U.S. 95 is also four lanes.

The mayor also lobbied ITD for a traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 95 and Main Street within Weiser's city limits. A signal would slow traffic down through the city and also allow pedestrians and cars to cross the five lanes of traffic during busy times of the day.

The ITD did a traffic study at the city's request to see if a traffic signal was warranted at the intersection of Main Street and U.S. 95. The agency said the volume met the criteria for a signal but did not allocate any state money for it.



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Original Publication Date: August 26, 2015



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