FERNAN - It's wider. It's straighter.
Above all: It's safer.
After investing two years in improvement construction, federal and county agencies stood proudly on Tuesday by the revamped Fernan Lake Road, no longer a bane to bikers and drivers.
"I've been here a long time, and it's 110 percent better than it was," said Dick Edinger, East Side Highway District commissioner, at a dedication ceremony for the spruced-up road. "Feel free to use it anytime you want."
The $20 million reconstruction work on 11 miles of road was completed just this week - nine months ahead of schedule - with the last road lines just painted on.
The project that has been a goal for 20 years was a collaboration between the Forest Service, which owns the land, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, East Side Highway District, Kootenai County Parks and Waterways and contractor M.A. DeAtley Construction.
"Some of us never thought we'd get to this spot where we are now," Edinger said.
Driving down the new asphalt is a comfy ride. Besides the absence of potholes, there are new markers and guard rails by sudden curves. Broad corners now have turn-outs.
The previously narrow, winding arterial has also been straightened and widened, thanks to removing sections of the cliff perpendicular to the road. There is new rock fall protection, and rock fill has been installed along shoreline and wetlands.
Fernan Lake Road is now at least 24 feet wide, boasted Jimmie Dorsey, East Side Highway District commissioner.
"Before, if we were lucky, it was 20 feet," he said. "As a snowmobiler, I had to quit using this road. Pulling out to go to the Fernan Saddle in the winter with a trailer was unsafe."
There are also improvements to the small boat launch on the road, which now includes a restroom facility, picnic tables and a small parking lot.
"This used to be a garbage dump," said Nick Snyder, director of county Parks and Waterways. "It was inundated with trash, there was unregulated camping, late night parties. We believe the improvements will help curb those problems."
Ownership of the launch area will eventually be turned over to Parks and Waterways.
The road improvements, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, was initially projected at $14.6 million, said Brent Coe, FHA construction engineer. The cost grew because of quantity overruns and extra erosion control, he said.
The agency will handle the extra cost by delaying other projects, Coe added.
Dusty Forsmann, project manager with M.A. DeAtley, said the contractor beat the deadline by running multiple crews for long hours.
"We were allowed to shut the road down during the day, in the morning, and we avoided that during the entire project," Forsmann said.
Once East Side Highway District takes a final look over the road and signs maintenance agreements, ownership will be transferred from the Forest Service to the highway district.
Hayden resident Marc Puga, fishing beside one of the new turn outs on Tuesday, said he thought the road looked less natural now.
He can live with that, though.
"I've heard of people who have gone (driven) into the lake," he said. "I see more bikers on the road now. They feel safer."
Jimmie Dorsey, East Side Highway District commissioner, far right, talks about the Fernan Lake Road project with Bryan Hausman, inspector for the Federal Highway Administration, center, and Pete Gonzalez, project engineer for the Federal Highway Administration, following a ceremony Tuesday at the improved boat launch site on the lake.