Controversy brews around Island Park roadway spending proposals

Rod Furniss talks with Neal Larson and Julie Mason on KID NewsRadio about proposed animal crossings and fences in Island Park | Sydney Jensen, KID NewsRadio

Listen to KID NewsRadio’s full interview with Rodd Furniss

 

ISLAND PARK, Idaho — Controversy surrounding proposed spending on US-20 near Island Park continues as the federal government decides to approve or disapprove a proposal from the Idaho Transportation Department.

Rod Furniss is one of several who have voiced concerns with one particular proposal from the Idaho Transportation Department involving a wildlife overpass.

“[The Idaho Transportation Department is] proposing $150 million spend from the Montana line to Chester in that corridor,” Ron Furniss told KID NewsRadio. “There could be as many as twelve bridges proposed. Now, I doubt there’s that many. The environmentalist groups are hoping for that. But, within the corridor from just Montana for the first four miles toward Henry’s Lake they’re proposing four bridges through that area.”

Furniss said one main concern with the proposal is the price tag. Rather than building bridges and fences to stop animals from causing accidents, the money could be put to better, more immediate use, he said.

I’d rather spend the money on roads and potholes holes then I would animal bridges and we haven’t had a problem,” Furniss said.

But, ITD says they are considering using the funds to repair roads. Megan Stark, communications director for the department, told KID NewsRadio the wildlife overpass is one of five proposals ITD is considering on the IPLAN section of their webpage and has never indicated they favored the wildlife overpass more than other alternatives.

“IPLAN is in no way a decision maker for our projects, it is a helpful tool for us to be able to look back at later on,” Megan Stark, ITD District 5 & 6 Public Information Specialist, told KID NewsRadio “The 12 wildlife crossings…is simply information of where the data referred – this is not what we are proposing! The actual projects plan ITD is proposing is in our ITIP, which is a 7 year projected plan for our projects. [Anyone] can refer to this on our website at itd.idaho.gov/funding.”

The IPLAN section of the US-20 website for the Idaho Transportation Department shows five alternative plans the department is considering for US-20 | Image Courtesy: Idaho Transportation Department via website

Still, Stark said ensuring safety for both animals and motorists needs to be addressed. Between 2002 and most of 2017, animals have caused 21 crashes of the 54 reported crashes in a four-mile stretch in Targhee Pass, according to the Idaho Department of Transportation. But, with so few incidents, Furniss said he thinks there are more effective and cheaper way to better ensure wildlife don’t end up on the road.

“The proposal is to slow down the speed limit, from the residents there in Island Park, slow it down, cut the trees back so that we can see the animals when they’re coming out and then for about $100,000, according to several people, sources, you can put in animal detection devices that the military has developed so that when an animal crosses the road a sign can come up and say, ‘animal on the road,’ and those devices are effective about 75 percent of the time,” Furniss said.

ITD is considering those options as well, Stark said. According to ITD’s website, “U.S. 20 Corridor: A Safer Road,” the wildlife overpass only appears in two of the five proposed corridor solutions.

“ITD has considered the animal detection system which is in fact included in several of the alternatives for the current Targhee Pass project,” . “Also, ITD will consider reviewing the speed limits once the Targhee Pass E.A. has been completed. Speed limits are not included in the Targhee Pass E.A. as they are an operational change that ITD can change regardless of a project.”

Now all parties are waiting for the Federal Highway Administration to approve or disapprove the submitted proposal. Following the federal government’s decision, ITD will be taking public comment on the proposal.

“There will be multiple way[s] to comment,” Stark said. “Once the Targhee Pass E.A. has been published and made public ITD will have a 30-day public comment period where anyone can comment.”