Controversy brews around proposed road construction

Image Courtesy: City of Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — A proposed road construction project in Idaho Falls is hoping to ease traffic congestion at a notoriously busy intersection, and causing local businesses some headache in the process.

“Basically what it does is it addresses the traffic flows through the intersection,” Chris Canfield, Assistant Public Works Director for the City of Idaho Falls, told KID NewsRadio. “What we do throughout the city on our arterial roads is identify project needs where they come up to try to keep traffic moving and not impede, or make it longer than it needs to be to travel through.”

The City of Idaho Falls has completed several such road projects in recent years, including widening the Hitt Road and 17th Street intersections to deal with high volumes of traffic. After further evaluation, Canfield said, the department determined it’s time to complete a similar project at another busy intersection, 17th Street and Woodruff Avenue, by widening the road.

“We call those ‘seven by seven’ intersections where you’ve got seven lanes coming in and out of them, optimize the lane widths,” Canfield said.

By widening those roadways, Canfield said, the high volume of cars passing through the intersection will have more lanes to occupy and thereby, cut down on how much time motorists spend on the road. But, widening a road doesn’t come easily.

Nearby businesses may need to sell parts of their property to accommodate extra lanes, or move entirely; the cost of which looms above nearby, small businesses.

“We are being attacked, in my opinion, all because someone wants the legacy of creating a turning lane to make traffic flow better,” Tyler Price, CEO of Austin Kade Academy, told KID NewsRadio. “Being here, sitting on the corner of that, I just don’t see that as an urgent need, and I see it being a very expensive proposition for the city just to be able to do it.”

The full extent of the impact, Canfield said, is still unknown. But, Price said the land the city is proposing to acquire will not only impact the academy’s day to day operations, but make it legally impossible for them to continue to operate in their current space.

“We would be forced to move because of the fact that we wouldn’t be able to, you know, in terms of having a trade school and a clinic floor and different things like that, we need the certain amount of parking and by eliminating any of the parking spaces really, that would make that very difficult for us,” Tyler Price said. “You know, us moving from our location into a new location will be an investment of around $200,000 just to move.”

Furthermore, Price said the city never contacted the academy and he learned about the proposed construction and the resulting impacts from a secondhand source.

“It’s just been through hearing from it secondhand, not hearing from it directly from the city, hearing here it from second hand, which is seems a little almost underhanded,” Price said. “They should be coming and contacting businesses, or maybe they feel they have, but we don’t feel that we were contacted.”

Canfield says the city did approach businesses likely to see an impact about the project before opening the proposal up for public comment.

“We’ve had one meeting with the adjacent property owners to alert them about the project and it was prior to a public meeting that we held on the 15th,” Canfield said. “We’ll go through a process, we’ll identify the needs for the project itself, we’ll have an appraisal done on the property impacts that are needed.”

Ask Price however, and you can’t really put a price on people’s small businesses and livelihoods, especially when the alternative of moving trees in front of the nearby Catholic church could save nearby businesses the headache and cost.

“It seems like that’s a lot cheaper to move three trees, not even cut them down, just dig them up and move them, than it is to displace to businesses, buy a property that I’m assuming going to be somewhere around a million and a half to $2,000,000 would be the value of the property that we’re in currently,” Price said.

Canfield said it’s the historic nature of the church that protects the trees and surrounding property.

“The other primary directive that kind of pushes us into those businesses is the fact that the church that’s on the southwest corner is a historic structure and what we call the NEPA process, it’s the National Environmental Policy Act, that triggers us to evaluate impacts to properties being historical or under other protections of the government and they restrict us from being able to do things to have significant impacts to that property.”

The project hasn’t been decided yet, and still has several phases to undergo in the approval process  and receive feedback from the public, Canfield said. The trees may even find a way into the proposal, he added.

As for Price, the way the city has handled the proposal and resulting process thus far are none too encouraging.

“Just the impact not only to our business, but also the cost that they’re going to have to go and invest, it doesn’t add up,” Price said. “It’s cheaper to move three trees than it is to destroy businesses.”

The public comment period is open until Friday, November 30.

View the full proposal and submit public comment here.