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Here's what vehicle registration fee would buy

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | September 25, 2020 1:09 AM

First in a series examining the 12 projects proposed in the vehicle registration fee request on the Nov. 3 ballot.

A proposed $50 annual vehicle registration fee by the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, but the ask to fund 12 projects is still largely unknown by voters.

The Local Option Vehicle Registration Fee would affect over 149,000 vehicles and their owners for the next two decades. Instead of being seen as separate projects, the 12 items are part of a plan to improve people and goods' movement throughout the area, KMPO executive director Glenn Miles said.

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT CENTER

On the list, a $7.5 million Regional Traffic Management Center used by KMPO and local highway districts, would focus on daily operations on state highways and significant arterials like Government Way, Northwest Boulevard, and Mullan Avenue. Miles, who helped establish a similar center in Spokane, said facilities like this aid in agency response to vehicle crashes, fires, road debris and signal failures that delay traffic.

The center would alert the Idaho Transportation Department and various county agencies to incidents that require mitigation through a network of already existing video cameras.

"The center would notify ITD or an incident management team to deal with that problem," Miles said. "It would also alert drivers by deploying messages to electronic signage, offering alternate routes, connecting to Google Maps, or email the center's subscriber list."

Similar centers to this exist nationally, Miles said, including in Spokane and Boise. Much of the center's operations would be controlled by traffic jurisdictions from Coeur d'Alene, Hayden, Post Falls, Rathdrum, and the Lakes Highway District, all of whom were included in developing the 12 projects.

HUETTER CORRIDOR

Local jurisdictions, ITD and KMPO adopted the Huetter Corridor project plan in 2009 after seeing the rate of growing population and development in Kootenai County. Intended to relieve congestion on Highway 41, Northwest Boulevard, I-90 and U.S. 95, the Huetter Corridor is primarily focused on increased traffic across the Rathdrum Prairie.

"The facility provides relief to existing local east-west and north-south arterials that are currently experiencing higher than anticipated traffic volumes and will be overwhelmed by stop and go traffic in the future," Miles said.

Running parallel to Huetter Road up to Lancaster, KMPO hopes that the corridor would potentially assist traffic currently using Pole Line, Prairie and Hayden Avenue. Being the midpoint access between Highway 41 and Northwest Boulevard, the corridor would offer an alternative route for a roadblock or car crash on I-90.

"Our modeling shows that when Huetter goes in, people from Rathdrum will usually come down to Hayden or Prairie to get to Huetter to get to where they're trying to go," Miles said. "It will change the traffic patterns of how people get where they want to go instead of sitting in traffic, waiting for a signal."

Spanning approximately 9.5 miles and a three-year timeline, Miles said the Huetter project would require a new right of way connecting I-90 and U.S. 95 with six interchanges. The cost of construction is expected to be a whopping $295 million, with $88.5 million of that funded by the vehicle registration fee.

"The scope and breadth is the big picture for this fee," Miles said. "This stuff is not cheap, and it serves an extensive area."

U.S. 95

Idaho's only U.S. route that travels the entire length of the state, U.S. 95, is one of the most essential passageways for commuting people and services. Seen earlier this summer with an avalanche in Riggins, road closures on 95 can cause southbound residents to reroute travels through Montana, Washington and Oregon if they intend to reach the lower half of Idaho.

ITD has already spent millions upgrading 95 across the state, and this would be the last section, Miles said.

"It is a national and international trade corridor, but for residents of Kootenai County, it is a bottleneck situation," Miles said. "If you go out to the Spokane River at 5 o'clock or anytime in the summer, it is a busy piece of road with no shoulders and a lot of conflict points."

Developments and platting on the south side of the river to Cougar Gulch, Mica Flats and Rockford Bay have substantially increased in recent years, Miles said, causing increased traffic on the west side of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Through an approximately two and a half year, $59 million project — including $11.8 million of fee revenue — Miles said the bridge would be brought up to current standards, including widening to four lanes and improving the fluidity of intersections.

"If you have an incident now on the U.S. 95, everyone traveling on those roads comes to an inching halt," Miles said. "If we add lanes and complete these projects, we can move things around so that entities like the police can handle the issue more easily. Right now, we don't have that luxury."

Miles said it's not the price or public sentiment that will determine the order projects are completed, but competition by jurisdictional agencies and grant opportunities. However, he does expect the Regional Traffic Management Center to be one of the earlier action items and require about 12 to 18 months to build.

"We need to have better strategies on the major arterials in terms of an accident. Just being able to respond to these things and improve clearance times so traffic can move," Miles said. "If an accident occurs and there is a stoppage, a wave of congestions forms behind it. Soon you'll have two and a half miles of traffic and an hour-long back up."

Regional agencies will play the most influential role in prioritizing which projects move forward at what times, Miles said. Since they're all important to the people of Kootenai County, Miles said KMPO is more concerned about the ability to advance the projects to compete for state and federal funding.

"The intent of the ballot measure and the program is to immediately start applying for state and federal competitive grants as they become available, to advance these projects and build them sooner rather than later," Miles said.