A plan by the state to remove a traffic light on U.S. 95 in Coeur d’Alene isn’t getting the high-five reception expected from some users of the heavily traveled corridor.
That’s because residents of a nearby apartment complex contend that they need the traffic light at Bosanko Avenue to safely cross or turn south on U.S. 95.
“We fear for our lives when you open up that traffic corridor,” Darlene Nicholson said. “People aren’t going to slow down; they are going to floor board it.”
Nicholson was among a group of 45 people to attend a meeting Monday with engineers from the Idaho Transportation Department who plan to remove the light at Bosanko in an effort to move traffic faster up and down the U.S. 95 corridor.
The meeting at the Affinity at Coeur d’Alene apartments, a 55-and-over community at 3585 N. Cederblom, a block east of the light, filled a conference center with residents and nearby business owners concerned that the loss of the traffic light will adversely affect their chunk of real estate.
“It’s going to cause a big problem,” said Ken Young, who travels in a motorized wheelchair and uses the light at Bosanko Avenue to cross the highway to shop at the Fred Meyer complex on the west side of U.S. 95.
Residents of the four-story complex said taking out the traffic light and replacing it with turn lanes such as the ones at Haycraft Avenue a half mile to the south would make it difficult for ambulances to quickly rush elderly tenants to the hospital.
Amy Lincoln, a former EMT who lives at Affinity, said ambulances are called to the facility two or three times a week. If the traffic light is removed, emergency vehicles leaving the complex would have to turn north, travel to Kathleen Avenue and make a U-turn at the light to head back south to Kootenai Health.
“Every second matters,” Lincoln said.
But state engineers who monitor traffic flow and have pored over the numbers and digested projections say the light must be removed. Two studies paid for by the state have called for the removal.
The plan calls for a right turn lane for northbound traffic, and a left turn lane — similar to the Haycraft lane — for southbound traffic to turn east onto Bosanko. Traffic heading west on Bosanko, however, must turn north and is prohibited from crossing U.S. 95.
The changes would ease congestion on U.S. 95, saving time for north and southbound motorists, project engineer Carrie Ann Hewitt said.
“We’re trying to improve things,” Hewitt said. “We’re trying to make it better and save time, and make it safer.”
Removing the Bosanko light is part of a much bigger project that began in 2005 and is being incrementally funded. It calls for removing median turns such as one at Orchard Avenue in Hayden, which causes a lot of confusion and accidents.
“You won’t be able to go across and sit in the median waiting to make a left turn,” Hewitt said. “That’s dangerous.”
Traffic counts have shown that 35,000 vehicles travel the U.S. 95 corridor between Coeur d’Alene and Highway 53 daily. That number jumps to 39,000 at its peak in July. In 20 years, the number is expected to hit 60,000.
An $8.5 million grant is paying for the improvements on the nine-mile section that includes ADA-compliant curbs and ramps, turn lanes, coordinating traffic signals and bicycle/pedestrian path improvements. The project includes removing another light at Canfield Avenue, where Target is located.
The state recognizes that the plan will jam things up on the side streets, but it will allow highway traffic to get through the corridor much faster.
“We’re getting to the point where people are waiting two or three times to get through the signal,” engineer Marvin Fenn said. “It will leave more delays on the side streets... (but) we’re not going to build six lanes anytime soon.”
For many residents of Affinity, the state’s plan to more quickly move traffic conflicts with their desire for safety, they said, and removing the Bosanko light is untenable.
“We need that access to get out of here,” Lynn Brewer said. “You’re interested in moving a lot of traffic, We’re interested in not dying before our grandkids reach the eighth grade.”
The state plans to start work on the project this year, with a 2019 completion date.