Tuesday, February 27, 2024

ITD initiates Rathdrum Prairie transportation study

Staff Writer | October 25, 2023 1:07 AM

The future of the Rathdrum Prairie and how it will be traversed is the impetus for the Idaho Transportation Department to evaluate the region for viable mobility options and find solutions to the area's transportation needs.

"We're collecting data," ITD project manager CarrieAnn Hewitt said Monday morning. "We're trying to develop a consensus on the main issues."

ITD staff members are early in their research, using a Planning and Environmental Linkages study. This collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making considers environmental, community and economic goals early in the planning process and uses information, analysis and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process.

“It gives us a little bit of a jumpstart on some of the more in-depth processes that have to be done to identify an actual solution or an alternative and then advancing those into the construction phase," ITD public information officer Heather McDaniel said.

State highway and local roadway systems from the Idaho/Washington state line east to Government Way and Interstate 90 north to State Highway 53 will be reviewed.

“It truly encompasses the Rathdrum Prairie,” McDaniel said.

Short-term, mid-term and long-term options could ultimately be simply enhancing or realigning existing corridors, creating entirely new corridors or some sort of combination of both, she said.

"The exciting part of this study is that we don’t have any predetermined assumptions of what the outcome will look like," she said. "As this process progresses as it's designed to, a plethora of solutions will emerge over the coming months, which will be screened against impacts and the established purpose and need, allowing the best alternatives to rise to the top."

Everyone can agree transportation across this region has its problems, McDaniel said, but exactly what the problems are tend to be subjective. Issues vary for business owners, stay-at-home moms or trucking companies, she said.

“We’re trying to take those different perspectives and identify what the problem even is so that way we can start looking at what solution options might be," McDaniel said.

A recent meeting was held to gather input from stakeholders.

“We had five different groups of people from all different backgrounds. We gave them maps and said, 'Draw out the pain points you run into on a daily basis or in your personal lives, and what are your solutions?'" McDaniel said. "It was pretty remarkable how similar all of the maps were at the end when every group got up and gave their presentations."

The Planning and Environmental Linkages study could inform decisions more than 15 or 20 years into the future, Hewitt said.

ITD will work with local highway districts and municipalities on this study.

"We’re not only looking at this project through the lens of, 'What is ITD’s project going to be?' but rather regionally, 'What is a possible solution to help enhance mobility?'" McDaniel said. "Whether that’s one single silver-bullet solution that’s an expressway somewhere, or is that a multitude of little individual improvements and projects that could be handled not just by ITD, but maybe working alongside the county or local highway jurisdictions to add improvements that will enhance the entire transportation network in that area."

Some data already collected by the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization will be helpful as ITD moves ahead with its study.

“They’ve got a lot of really important work they’ve done up to this point that’s going to check some boxes for us rather than starting from scratch and recreating the wheel entirely,” McDaniel said.

Some may assume ITD is picking up and running with the proposed Huetter Bypass project that would expand Huetter Road to provide another north-south arterial from I-90, but McDaniel said this is not the case.

“Because Huetter is within that geographical region that we are looking at, after we do this entire study process and after we receive input and after we look at everything through all the different lenses that we’re going to, it might come out that Huetter is identified as a preferred alternative," she said. "It’s not to say that’s not going to happen, but that’s not the focus and that’s not what we’re running with as a project.”

ITD will host an open house to share information about the Planning and Environmental Linkages study and timeline from 4-7 p.m. Nov. 1 at Red Lion Hotel Templin's on the River, 414 E. First Ave., Post Falls.

The online open comment period for public input will be available from Nov. 2-16.

Recommendations from the study and public and agency input may be adopted or incorporated into future National Environmental Policy Act studies.

Info: itdprojects.idaho.gov/pages/rathdrum-prairie-pel


Image courtesy of the Idaho Transportation Department

The Idaho Transportation Department is initiating a Planning and Environmental Linkages study to examine mobility across the Rathdrum Prairie, from the state line to Government Way and from Interstate 90 to State Highway 53. An open house will be held Nov. 1.