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Lakeshore highway project nears completion

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | June 1, 2023 1:00 AM

▶️ Audio story available.

SAGLE — A project more than two years in the making is slated to wrap up by Friday as a median U-turn on U.S. 95 is opened to traffic.

Crews are finalizing striping and signage, the final steps of the project's second phase, Megan Jahns, Idaho Transportation Department public information officer, said.

"The U-turn will give drivers who want to turn left onto U.S. 95 from Lakeshore Drive and other nearby roads an option to turn right first, travel downstream and then use the new lane to make a U-turn and rejoin northbound traffic," Jahns said. "This U-turn is designed to increase safety and traffic flow south of the Long Bridge."

Motorists had been clamoring for years for a project to make the U.S. 95 and Lakeshore Drive intersection safer access to the highway. Motorists attempting to head north by turning left from the roadway often struggle to find a break in southbound traffic coming off the Long Bridge.

Impetuous or impatient motorists have occasionally been known to dart out into the intersection despite the onslaught of southbound traffic traveling at highway speed.

The plan, which was first suggested by Bonner County Road & Bridge officials several years ago, includes a combination of acceleration lanes and U-turns. Funding for the project was included in Gov. Brad Little's Building Idaho’s Future initiative and approved by the Idaho Legislature in the 2021 session.

Leading the effort were former District 1 Sen. Jim Woodward and former District 7 Sen. Carl Crabtree.

Seeing the completion of the Lakeshore turnaround and the Sagle traffic light is rewarding, Woodward said.

"The project is a great example of how government can be responsive and effective," he told the Daily Bee. "The Lakeshore intersection has become more and more dangerous as U.S. 95 traffic has increased over the years."

While in the Idaho Senate, Woodward brought the project up the priority list by emphasizing just how bad the problem was to state officials and fellow legislators.

"The governor and the ITD Board were very supportive upon understanding the dangers of the situation," Woodward said. "We’re fortunate to have Jim Thompson, a Bonner County resident, on the ITD board as the North Idaho transportation representative."

All of those factors were key to moving the project up the priority list, he said.

With construction complete, ITD officials noted that the Serenity Lee Trail also has reopened.

"We want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding during construction," Jahns said on the website. "Crews will remain in the area for the coming week as they finalize construction activities. No major impacts to traffic are expected."

Construction of the first phase, which included adding an acceleration lane for drivers turning south onto U.S. 95, was completed in fall 2021 and spring 2022. Dedicated lanes for different turning movements from Lakeshore Drive were also established.

"U-turns give drivers who want to turn left onto U.S. 95 an option to turn right first, travel downstream and then use a new lane to make a U-turn and rejoin traffic," ITD officials said on the department's website. "These U-turns are designed to increase safety and traffic flow in areas such as the south end of the Long Bridge."

While ITD does not plan to restrict left turns from Lakeshore Drive onto U.S. 95 at the Long Bridge, department officials cautioned that could happen in the future if conditions warrant. If that decision is made, drivers would still be able to head north from Lakeshore Drive by using the U-turn to the south.

Woodward said while needed and will go a long way to improve safety, it's important for people to know the improvements are a short-term solution.

"We needed some kind of fix now, not ten or twenty years down the road," he added.

A long-term solution is a much bigger project that will take more time and money.

"The Sagle Corridor study, funded at the same time as this project, is underway. The corridor study will produce preliminary designs through engineering work and public input," Woodward said. "In the meantime, we can enjoy the improved safety and functionality from this project."

Information: itdprojects.org/us95lakeshoredrive

photo

(Illustration courtesy IDAHO TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT)

An Idaho Transportation Department graphic shows how motorists can navigate a new median U-turn on U.S. 95 in the Sagle area to turn north.