Idaho Falls citizens will assemble next week to celebrate the completion of a new door to their city – the Sunnyside Interchange and new Snake River Bridge that enables direct access from Interstate 15 to shopping centers and medical services.
The ceremonial opening is planned for 11 a.m. on the new five-lane bridge over the Snake River. The ceremony will include a Veteran’s color guard, remarks by Idaho Transportation Board member John X. Combo and Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman, musical selections from a Skyline High School quartet and a formal ribbon cutting.
The interchange, bridge and connecting highway constitute one of the largest improvements to Interstate 15 since the highway was completed 44 years ago. Coincidentally, the cost of the project that began in 2004 is nearly identical to the cost of building I-15 from Pocatello to Idaho Falls.
Idaho Construction Co. of Kimberly began work on the new interchange July 6, 2004. The $21.4 million project includes:
A nearly identical investment of $21.5 million almost 50 years earlier built the four-lane interstate from Pocatello to Idaho Falls. Projects included:
Construction began in July 1958 and was completed four years later. Construction on the new interchange began in July 2004 and was completed in three years.
Idaho Gov. Robert E. Smylie was the featured speaker at the I-15 dedication on Oct. 31, 1962. Completion “marks the opening of Idaho’s first two-city freeway,” he said.
“…Let this sleek highway we are dedicating today stand as mute testimony to the far-flung program of progress we have pledged for ourselves, our children and our sovereign state.”
He noted that the old route between Pocatello and Idaho Falls was marred by 163 traffic crashes in 1960 and 169 the following year, claiming six lives and injuring 91 persons in 1961. “The property damage totals have also been figured out, but there is no measurement for human tragedy.
“…accident rates can be reduced as much as 50 percent on modern, four-lane roads while our factory workers, farmers and college students will be getting to their destinations in almost half the time it has taken in previous years.”
History shows the late governor’s prophecy to be partially correct. In 2005, only four fatalities were recorded on I-15 between Pocatello and Idaho Falls, resulting from 250 crashes. Considering the unexpected growth in traffic volume, however, Gov. Smylie’s prediction of safer travel, indeed, was achieved.
The average traffic count in 2005 for I-15 near the new interchange is approximately 18,500 vehicles per day, about three times the number of vehicles (6,350) that traveled U.S. 91/26 south of Idaho Falls during the first year of construction on I-15.
Design consultant Parsons Brinkerhoff began preliminary engineering in 1999, explained Wade Allen, ITD’s project engineer.
Although the project is complete, ITD will administer a companion project, tentatively scheduled to begin next year, that will expand a two-lane section of Sunnyside to five lanes from the Sunnyside/Yellowstone intersection to Holmes Avenue.
The project, which is not part of the state highway system, is sponsored by the city of Idaho Falls and will be administered by ITD using federal funds. When completed, Sunnyside Road will be five lanes from the interchange to Ammon.
The public is invited to Thursday morning’s interchange
dedication and ribbon cutting.