After 10 years of project delay, debaters on both sides of the U.S. Highway 95 re-route south of Moscow agree it is time to stop analyzing and make a decision.
“Any option is better than what is there currently,” said Steven Peterson, associate professor of economics in the College of Business and Economics.
Peterson was part of a panel of professors and community members who discussed the issue Monday on the UI campus.
The 6.5-mile section of highway is part of the most important roadway through Idaho, and is also one of the most dangerous sections, according to the panel. The proposed solution is a bypass that takes a new route through the area, one that is safer than the current windy “death trap” that exists, Peterson said.
The bypass project is part of a larger highway renovation project that stretches from Lewiston to Moscow and was largely completed in 2003. The final section of the highway renovation was delayed to find the best possible route through the area — an area that is home to fragile and dying ecosystems as well as people.
There are three proposed routes through the area and all three routes include a plan for a four lane, divided highway with turn lanes at county road intersections and wider shoulders.
The first proposed route runs parallel to the top of Paradise Ridge and is known as E2. This route is east of the current road and cuts off the curves of the current highway to make it safer for drivers. It also runs through natural Palouse Prairie and large-animal ecosystems, said panel member Steve Flint, a representative of the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition.
The second route is further west and runs more in line with the current highway and would only renovate part of the current highway and bypass a portion of it rather than the whole thing. The route, known as C3 is similar to W4, the route that bypasses the current highway to the west. This route is the longest of the three.
The Idaho Transportation Department has spent the last 10 years preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement showing these alternatives. The draft is available for the public to review on the ITD website.
Despite disagreements about where the bypass should go, the four panel members — Peterson, Flint, retired UI accounting professor Jeff Harkin and retired UI professor of Constitutional Law James Macdonald — agreed after 10 years and hundreds of accidents on the current road, a decision needs to be made.
“Several people ask me why in my retirement I would choose to get involved in something like this rather than go down to Lewiston and play a round of golf,” Harkin said. “From January 1, 2002, to January 1, 2011, this section of road has had 220 accidents … and to my great sadness six people were killed.”
Harkin said this is unacceptable and prefers E2 based on the safety statistics showing E2 would eliminate 1.5 of the highway deaths per year.
Peterson said although E2 is the safest route, he feels any route is safer than the current one and would have a positive economic impact on the state.
“It’s to the point that we just need to make a decision. It’s the only north-south route in Idaho and it has the largest economic impact on the state,” Peterson said. “Something needs to be done.”
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at email@example.com