SANDPOINT - All that was missing from Friday's dedication ceremony for the Sand Creek Byway was a ribbon-cutting with some oversized novelty scissors.
Officials from the state of Idaho and lead contractor Parsons RCI gathered on the banks of the creek to commemorate the substantial completion of the complex and controversial U.S. 95 realignment project.
The project has been hotly debated for at least 60 years, but is no longer an abstract concept. It is a concrete-and-steel reality.
"This is indeed a momentous occasion," said lifelong Bonner County resident George Eskridge, who recalled reading a Sandpoint News Bulletin article which claimed that the project's contract would be let in the fall of 1953.
At the time, Eskridge was a fifth-grader at Washington Elementary School. The project was still a concept when Eskridge graduated from Sandpoint High School in 1961. It would remain a concept while Eskridge raised his family, built a career and won election to the Idaho House of Representatives.
"Finally, 50 years later almost to the month from that 1953 News Bulletin article, we stand here in celebration of the construction of the Sand Creek Byway," said Eskridge.
L. Scott Stokes, deputy director of the Idaho Transportation Department, said the dedication reminded him of a family reunion due to the vast amount of public involvement in Sandpoint.
"This project is our baby. It's our baby - we've worried about it, we've tended to it and we've nurtured it," said Stokes, who was an ITD district engineer when the project finally started gaining momentum in the late 1990s.
Diverse opinions about the effectiveness of the $100 million project was "strengthening" for the ITD and the community, said Stokes. Although he joked that it was not without some toll.
"I do need to say that all of us that have been involved on this project are on high doses of medication at this point," he said.
Jim Coleman, vice chair of the Idaho Transportation Board, vividly recalled ITD Resident Engineer Ken Sorensen's pitch to the board.
"We're going to build a massive project on duck poop," Coleman recalled Sorensen saying.
Coleman admitted that he did not expect the project to attract a bidder of Parsons caliber, but is grateful that it did. He called Parsons the "right contractor" that had the "right personnel" and said ITD's local residency was also an essential ingredient.
"They have taken on and completed the most complex project ever done in Idaho and the most expensive highway project ever done in Idaho," said Coleman.
When Parsons takes on projects with a comparable price tag, the contracts last 24-30 months, according to J.C. Brummond, senior vice president of Parsons' Heavy Civil/Transportation and Environmental Division.
The byway contract lasted four years, which meant Parsons became part of the community's fabric. Nearly 200 Parsons employees relocated here, shopped here, prayed here and enjoyed the Panhandle's abundant recreational opportunities.
Barbara Babic, ITD's District 1 spokeswoman, said Parsons is shooting for a mid-July opening of the project, but added that ITD is optimistic that it could open sooner than that.