Input sought on road project

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SANDPOINT — The four eastern Bonner County cities are looking for public input on a Highway 2/200 corridor project, with a workshop starting on Tuesday to discuss the future of the state highway.

City officials from Sandpoint, Ponderay, Dover and Kootenai are partnering on a Highway 2/200 corridor project, focusing on the role of the corridor as a state highway and local street, freight routes, U.S. Bike Route 10, pedestrian crossings and activities, and community gateways and land use.

There will be a planning workshop on the project Tuesday, Dec. 8 through Friday, Dec. 11. The public is welcome to attend certain events throughout the workshop. Tuesday at 9 a.m., introductions will be made in the auditorium at the Sandpoint Center. The public is invited to attend the welcoming ceremony. Public open houses will take place on Wednesday and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. in the Community Room.

Sandpoint Planning and Economic Development Director Aaron Qualls said the project started several years ago when city officials from the four cities attended a training session in Boise on land use and transportation designs.

“Everybody came back from that pretty inspired and decided to keep our momentum and work on a project from what was learned back then at that training seminar,”Qualls said.

He said the one common thread for all four cities is the 6.2-mile stretch of Highway 2/200. All four cities and the Independent Highway District completed a corridor study in 2007, the Urban Area Transportation Plan. Currently, the four cities would like to see the plan updated to better reflect current needs in the corridor, which starts near the Dover city limits and ends near the Kootenai city limits.

“It’s a big stretch of corridor and we have identified focus areas for them to concentrate on,”Qualls said.  

The four cities applied jointly with the New Mobility West Program to help the cities create a plan for along the stretch of highway, the bike route designation and balance the highway as a local freight route. Pedestrian safety and gateways to cities will also be discussed. Qualls said the team wants to improve the safety, livability, community identity, and multi-modal friendliness of the Highway 2/200 corridor.

The cost to the cities is about $3,000 for the week-long workshop. Sandpoint and Ponderay are giving $1,000 each, with Dover and Kootenai doling out $500 each. However, Jillian Sutherland, program director for NMW, said the cost to their program is about $30,000 to $50,000, and that covers lodging, travel expenses, time and other needs for the employees attending the workshop.

An initiative administered by the nonprofit Community Builders out of Colorado, New Mobility West with cities in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. The initiative specializes in transportation issues, helping with planning and economic efforts, Sutherland said. They offer twice-yearly grant process to select four communities in the four-state region. Sutherland said the four cities applied and were chosen through that process for the free technical assistance program.  

“We serve communities dealing with issues related to transportation, community development, economic development,”Sutherland said. "Communities that are really trying to harness their assets and be sustainable in all areas."

Technical experts from Community Builders, Charlier Associates, Project for Public Spaces and Idaho Smart Growth will attend the site visit, Sutherland said.

There are several options for land considerations the cities are looking at for the highway, including leaving it alone, or changing to two, three, or five lanes. Qualls said no decision has been made regarding the lane configurations, which should become clearer after the planning workshop. He said it is all Idaho Transportation Department right of ways.

“That’s what we would like to know, the city, so we can tell people where to put their buildings,”Qualls said. “Where the sidewalk is going to go, that sort of thing."

Qualls said there are several areas in Sandpoint that have caused pedestrian safety concerns. He said near Safeway, the high school and middle school are several of the dangerous areas. He said in Ponderay and Kootenai, getting to Kootenai Elementary and the market, and future plans to connect to the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail Head, offer similar challenges.

There is no timeline for the project, Qualls said. ITD is looking to update its urban area transportation plan and the corridor study. He said this will help with future projects as funding becomes available.

“It’s basically getting ITD in conversation with the four cities, with stakeholder groups and we have identified four key ones, the school districts, freights, business owners along the corridor and ITD,”Qualls said.    

Qualls said the cost of the project will depend on what the team decides to implement along the corridor. There is no estimation on construction costs currently and Qualls said they would look for funding through grants, state assistance and other available options when the design is complete. He said the workshop should help the cities form a cohesive plan for the cities to get behind and help them with future funding options.

“A five lane road is going to be much more expensive to build and maintain than a three lane road,”Qualls said. “Having a plan in place can really help your chances for getting additional construction grant funding to actually do projects."

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