Motorists continued their steady migration near the Franklin City Park and rest area Wednesday. In some cases, side-by-side, on a bed of smooth black asphalt dressed with splashes of white paint.
While they enjoyed the benefits of a newly constructed U.S. 91 – faster and safer commutes to and from Logan, Utah – dignitaries assembled under cloudy skies and a white canopy to formally pronounce the $21 million construction project finished.
Representatives of ITD’s District 5 along with transportation board members and officials from Headquarters in Boise joined the mayors of Franklin and Preston and state legislators for the reopening ceremony. The Preston High School band initiated the event by playing the National Anthem.
Idaho Rep. Larry Bradford, District 31-Franklin, thanked the transportation department for completing the project so efficiently and with little inconvenience to motorists and residents of Franklin and Preston. He said the region has enjoyed a strong relationship with the transportation department and completion of the U.S. 91 reconstruction exemplified that working relationship.
Franklin Mayor Bob Wilkinson said the highway project improves safety for motorists who use it daily to reach job sites and commercial locations in Logan, Utah, about 20 miles away. He said there were no traffic fatalities or major crashes on the highway during the 18-month reconstruction and he wants drivers to obey the posted speed limits to ensure safety on U.S. 91.
Neal Larson, mayor of Preston, also thanked the transportation department for helping motorists travel between his city and Logan safely and much more efficiently.
Brenton Atkinson, President of the Franklin Pioneer Association, said he travels the route daily to a store he operates in Logan. In addition to enhancing the drive for commuters, improvements to U.S. 91 help draw attention to the region’s rich history. His family helped settle the area and establish Idaho’s first incorporated city – Franklin.
Participants in the highway reopening saw first-hand some of that local history. Susan Hawkes, curator for the Franklin Pioneer Association’s Relic Hall shared transportation items from the nearby museum. Items included a replica of an 1880s horse-drawn coach, an oxen yoke, a narrow tire from one of the region’s earliest automobiles, railroad artifacts, and a number of historic transportation photos.
Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Frank Bruneel, who served as emcee, provided an overview of the construction project, including ITD efforts to protect a number of historically and culturally significant treasures. Among them was an old railroad trestle that history had buried intact along the highway route.
Highway designers also preserved an old pea vinery at Whitney by excluding it from the final highway route.
ITD purchased the old Hobbs hayfield north of Franklin and constructed a wetland as part of the highway project. The project restored the original use of the land and helped mitigate for several smaller wetland areas that were assumed as part of the highway construction.
The transportation department also worked closely with owners of a gas pipeline to include it in the right-of-way under the highway, thus preventing costly relocation of the pipe.
The route, which eventually became U.S. 91, was first used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in efforts to expand north of Salt Lake City. As part of the church expansion, members settled in an area they believed to be northern Utah. In fact, the location was just beyond the state line and ultimately became Idaho's first established community.
The project to expand and rebuild an eight-mile segment of U.S. 91 from Preston to the Idaho-Utah state line was completed early this month. The new highway aligns with a similar project completed in 2005 by the Utah Department of Transportation. U.S. 91 now is a four-lane highway from Preston to Logan.
The highway is an important commuter corridor, carrying workers from southern Idaho to businesses and work sites in Logan. An average of 5,900 vehicles travel the route daily; by year 2025 the daily traffic count is expected to be nearly 7,600. Completion of the new highway reduces by nearly one-half the 20-mile commute time that frequently required 45 minutes to make.
Construction crews from LeGrand Construction Co. of Logan encountered a number of challenges in completing the Idaho segment of the highway. While excavating, they discovered a buried railroad trestle and abandoned culverts, along with other historically significant treasures.
About 50 people turned out for the celebration.