SANDPOINT — Motorists were turned loose on the Sand Creek Byway this morning.
The opening of the new U.S. Highway 95 alignment will mark the end of a 60-year odyssey to improve traffic flow and safety in the greater Sandpoint area.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Idaho Transportation Department spokeswoman Barbara Babic said of the new alignment, which will have a posted speed limit of 45 mph.
Motorists coming from north and south of Sandpoint will have easy access to the project because of the full interchange in Ponderay and the Long Bridge, respectively. Motorists in Sandpoint who want to access the new alignment will have to take the current through-town route to the Ponderay interchange.
Although there is no direct access to the bypass from downtown Sandpoint, motorists heading south from Ponderay will be able to use an off-ramp to access downtown.
ITD is also reminding the public that motorists who are leaving downtown to go south on the Long Bridge will have to merge with the flow of southbound traffic coming off the byway.
“There will be merging traffic there,” said Babic.
The $106 million project’s 1999 final Environmental Impact Statement predicted that the byway will reduce the volume of traffic in Sandpoint by about 15 percent. It was not immediately clear late Thursday if those estimates had been revised during the course of the project.
The final EIS estimated that reduction in through-town traffic would reduce the costs of fatalities, injuries and property damage by $66.2 million.