Workshop set on proposed multimodal plan changes
A map of proposed changes to Figure 23, which details the Boyer/U.S. 2 interchange.
Staff Writer | March 12, 2023 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — Changes to Sandpoint's proposed east-west connection are driving a lot of concern in the community as the city ponders an amendment to its transportation master plan.
But, city officials said, the proposed amendments aim to restore connectivity to South Boyer, and are needed to improve safety at a problematic intersection that merges all types of transportation users with numerous safety issues.
Under the proposed amendment, the city would eliminate reference to a potential number of lanes — something outside the city's purview. At the same time, it would emphasize the need for pedestrian and bicycle crossings and safety enhancements will be emphasized.
The connection, also referred to as Figure 23 due to where the concept drawing sits in Sandpoint's Multimodal Transportation Master Plan, now includes a reference to city policy that formalizes the importance the city places on all transportation systems, Amanda Wilson, Sandpoint's Infrastructure and Development Services director, said.
"This policy is not optional and serves as a directive during the design process for city-owned and/or maintained streets; the purpose of adding its reference to Figure 23 is to reinforce the value of this policy."
The city's traffic consultant will be on hand to detail how different designs could impact the city's neighborhoods and streets. Residents will have a chance to submit questions in advance of the meeting, so they can be addressed during the presentation.
Those changes to the connection will be discussed at an informational workshop Wednesday, March 15. However, no action will be taken following the presentation.
"The push with the concept is hopefully to get ITD again to pick up their design, look at a redesign to create that predictability," Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said. "But construction most likely is many years in the future but it is something we need to plan for because there can be impacts there. And there will be impacts along that corridor."
It is, the city administrator said, not a matter of pushing for change but preparing for it — and working to craft solutions that reflect residents' vision for their city.
However, critics say the move is a push by city officials to get the Idaho Transportation Department to move up revision of the corridor. They said the couplet system will bisect the city in two and send Sandpoint down the same route as Coeur d'Alene and Spokane, where large ribbons of asphalt split the cities in half.
"Why was the city pursuing this dead horse when Sandpoint City Council had decided to kill it," Carrie Logan, former Sandpoint mayor and councilwoman, wrote in a recent letter. "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?"
Adopted in May 2021, the multimodal plan is a 20-year vision for the city's entire transportation system and includes several capital improvement projects for the city's streets. The plan was adopted at the end of an 18-month process that sought input and feedback from both residents and businesses.
Amendment of the concept is to inform the beginning of a redesign of how U.S. 2 and the city streets connect, Wilson said.
"The city's concept of Figure 23 is really trying to initiate that process with ITD again," Wilson told the Daily Bee. "To get a redesign and resolve our citizens' concerns about cut-through traffic through South Sandpoint as well as some other safety issues that we have from a pedestrian and bicycle perspective."
While no decision will be made Wednesday, the proposed amendment is expected to go to the city council for a vote in early May.
Under the plan, the city outlined a variety of solutions to transportation issues and community concerns in the area. It did not, however, allow for access to South Boyer.
Then came the chance to purchase the Dub's property. It changed everything, Stapleton said.
"The design that ITD has sitting on the shelf, pending funding, did not address some of those concerns at Boyer and Highway 2," Stapleton said, noting the plan didn't provide for connectivity into South Sandpoint and doesn't resolve pedestrian and bicycle concerns in the area.
"That's where it became a game-changer when Dub's came back and said, 'We are willing to sell and we would prefer to sell to the city as opposed to ITD so that you can use this, hopefully for some leveraging power to influence the design in this area,'" Stapleton said.
The goal, Wilson and Stapleton said, is to give both the community and area businesses certainty regarding the U.S. 2 corridor and its related impacts. Right now, the answer to those questions is the 2015 agreement with ITD.
While support for a couplet solution dates back to the 1990s, Wilson said it wasn't until 2013 when Sandpoint officials saw more specific details of how the proposal might look that they put the brakes on their support.
City officials and residents felt the couplet solution didn't adequately address pedestrian and bicycle safety and split the city in two. That prompted a multi-year negotiation that ended with the current layout of city streets.
In the 2015 agreement, portions of First Avenue and Cedar, Pine and Superior streets used to move highway traffic through town were given back to the city's control to provide for two-way traffic. In exchange, the city agreed to accept that minimum performance levels on portions of the transportation may fall below acceptable levels.
Both sides agreed that it was in the public's interest to realign U.S. 2 in the future.
"There is a design, not a concept, but an ITD-designed solution for what happens on U.S. 2 should their system start to fail in the future. And that design is a couplet. We also accepted, formally, in an agreement with ITD, a couplet solution," Wilson said.
Having an updated design that reflects the community's concerns gives businesses and residents in South Sandpoint — and throughout the city — predictability over what lies ahead, Stapleton said.
"Understanding that that design the ITD has, if there are any changes to it, that what is the final design helps them with their business planning, which is good for our community," she added.
Part of the multimodal plan addresses how east-west traffic moves through Sandpoint in a way that benefits all modes of transportation, from pedestrians to bicycles to vehicles, Wilson said.
In the MTMP, the city's concept calls for moving the signal from Church back to Pine Street, opening Pine completely to two-way traffic from First to Boyer, Wilson said.
"The Curve bisected, if you will, traffic," she said. "It actually had a couple of couplets within it. Our Figure 23 does not. So I think that there's often some confusion because both solutions, the one that's designed, as well as the city's concept that is not designed, have couplets in them. They function vastly different."
However, critics contend the measure is the "Curve" project in all but name and, if the measure moves forward, it will result in it being placed for funding in ITD's capital plan. And sooner, rather than later, the transportation department will move forward and bisect the community.
That, they said, will turn the clock back to a loss of control over its streets, unsafe roads for pedestrians and bicyclists and truck traffic again rampant on city roads.
When she first moved to Sandpoint in the late 1980s, Logan wrote there had long been a desire for the city to gain back control of its streets. After the city rejected the Curve project, it took a two-year negotiation to craft an agreement that resulted in the current traffic pattern — and a return of its streets to the city.
Critics question the need for any type of couplet system, saying it is both unnecessary and contrary to the city's character and wishes. They called on residents to contact Sandpoint council members and urge them to reject such a plan.
"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," Logan wrote in her letter.
Information on the city's master plans, including the Multimodal Master Plan, can be found on its website, sandpointidaho.gov, and by clicking on the "Master Plans" tab