Friday, June 14, 2024

How did couplet plan raise its ugly head?

| March 7, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho Transportation Department and the city (non-elected officials) have been talking about the Curve or couplet. How did this project raise its ugly head again?

My contact at ITD said: “The city has expressed interest in trying to build the couplet project again, although there is nothing in the ITD ITIP (capital plan through 2029) currently. I would surmise it would take participation by the city (Dub’s purchase?) to get that project off the ground again.”

In response to a query from me about who in the city started this conversation, my contact stated that there has been continuous discussion over the years primarily at BCATT (Bonner County Area Transportation Plan attended by some city staff) and that specific project discussions have reignited when the city was able to obtain Dub’s property and completed their transportation plan. Why was the city pursuing this dead horse when Sandpoint City Council had decided to kill it? Why is the council again being asked to agree to a five-lane intersection that cuts our town in half and in the process whacks off part of Dub’s field? How is this all in the people’s best interest?

1989 was the year I moved to Sandpoint, which had a population of just about 5,300. Highways 2 and 95 ran right through town utilizing one-way streets. There was one stoplight in town at the intersection of Second and Cedar and a flashing yellow hanging light at Superior and First as it is now. The light at First and Pine was added by ITD (Idaho Transportation Department) sometime in the 1990s and was removed upon return of the streets. I used to go to Ivano’s when it was on the corner of Lake and 2nd and always enjoyed it when waiter Greg served our table. When he brought out your food he would make a sweeping motion over the food to direct the aromas to you; we used to call him Mr. Whaff Whaff. When the restaurant moved to the corner of First and Pine he couldn’t whaff over your food outside because of the competing aromas from the cattle trucks and logging trucks with their diesel fumes. It was nasty.

There had long been a desire to return the streets to the city and many thought it would happen with the completion of the byway. But not so fast. First ITD tried to implement the Curve project which as many of you remember involved running a one-way road from Cedar southwest toward Boyer and intersecting U.S. 2 with a five-lane road. Horrible and soundly rejected by the City Council and residents. Still, the city wanted control of their downtown streets back and after a lengthy (two-year) negotiation we had our current configuration. Along with that and based on a suggestion from a citizen at a workshop where the public was allowed to speak and contribute, Fifth Avenue was converted to two-way. ITD refused to put a stoplight at Pine and so it is now at Church. They insisted that the Pine Street block between Fourth and Fifth be one-way to the east. Their data showed that the intersections of Church and Oak with Fifth at peak hour would be problematic but not impossible. Council felt a short delay at peak hours was tolerable. It didn’t make sense to the council to invest huge amounts of money to create more lanes and lights for a “problem” that was time limited.

Implicit in all of these negotiations was the understanding that through trucks east and westbound were to use Fifth Avenue and the Byway. Most trucking companies do so but some errant loggers insist on using Church and the city has never ticketed them for that. If you look at the data that is attached to the city’s transportation plan (MMTP) it shows the only congested/failing intersection right now that would be affected by the Curve is at Fifth and Pine (Euclid) and it shows little improvement with the Curve. Why in the world would you want to spend all that money, cut a town in half, and create more delays and added lights? It’s just nuts to me. If you also look carefully at the transportation plan there is a truck route designated to include Pine Street east and west. The trucks will be rolling down Pine and through town again.

What do we do if we oppose the Curve/Couplet? Contact City Council members in person if you can or write/call them. Ask for lots of opportunities for residents to weigh in. City Council members — elected officials — should be having these conversations with ITD — not staff. Council has the final say on whether this happens or not and they should not be cowed into accepting it because of a flawed transportation plan that was put together in 2021 with very little input from the public and that included no discussion about the year 2040 Curve/Couplet.