POST FALLS — Bridging the Valley has new life in Idaho.
The ambitious railroad safety project, which will eliminate 72 at-grade crossings in the 42-mile corridor from Spokane to Athol, was seemingly stagnant for several years due to funding woes.
But funding to bring preliminary work for the intersection of Highway 53 and Pleasant View to completion is nearly wrapped up, which advocates consider a breakthrough that offers new hope for the plan.
“It’s taken quite a bit longer to materialize than what was originally envisioned — a lot of that was due to the downturn of the economy — but I believe it will become a reality,” said Lynn Humphries of the Post Falls Highway District, which is helping fund the intersection project.
“It’s marching along, and I believe it will continue to march along as long as the Federal Highway Administration and the railroads are in concurrence that this is a priority project. Yeah, it’s an expensive project (estimated to cost $250 million for the entire corridor), but you can’t put a price tag on lost lives.”
The movement with Bridging the Valley has made agencies and developers consider the project more with regard to other requests in the corridor rather than essentially writing it off as a pipe dream.
A controversial proposal by The Coeur d’Alene Group LLC to construct an open-air market near the 53/Pleasant View intersection on the north side of 53 will likely be on hold in the City of Hauser’s approval process, said Cheri Howell, Hauser’s planner.
The Hauser planning commission on Tuesday will consider allowing the proponent to pull the proposal from the Oct. 18 agenda.
“They’ve asked for a 60-day extension based on the new information that is coming out about the Bridging the Valley,” Howell said.
Mike Curry, a partner with The Coeur d’Alene Group and a member of the Hauser planning commission, declined to comment on the project or its progress.
Howell said the concept would be similar to Pike Street Market in Seattle, with vendors under a roof.
The proposal has drawn outcry, including a petition, from some residents based mostly on traffic and safety concerns.
Humphries said the highway district has issues with the market idea as well because parts of the site will be needed for Bridging the Valley improvements. The intersection will include a bridge on Pleasant View that will go over the both the railroad and 53 and have on- and off-ramps.
“We’re trying to avoid more costs to them and us down the road,” Humphries said.
The FHA has appropriated $5 million for engineering and design of the intersection. The highway district has approved its $150,000 share and the Idaho Transportation Department is expected to approve its $130,000 portion in October to wrap up the funding for engineering and design.
Engineering will take up to two years before money can be appropriated for construction, estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million.
Mill Street in Rathdrum was the first priority railroad crossing in Idaho to be improved, but when a local match could not be secured, Pleasant View and 53 was the next choice.
Humphries said improving that intersection is critical because it’s used to transport commodities to and from Interstate 90, is well-traveled and it can be dangerous.
Bridging the Valley construction is under way in Washington with improvements at Havana, while engineering is being performed for a project on Barker.