Bruce Sweeney, vice chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, and Jim Carpenter, district engineer for the Idaho Transportation Department at Lewiston, did the honors by erecting the last sign, mile marker 320, on the $55 million project.
"This is the first four-lane rural section built in District 2 since we completed Lewiston Hill 30 years ago, so we might have been overdue," Carpenter told a gathering of about 60 people, including area politicians and public officials, gathered under a tent at a turnout adjacent to the highway. "And I have my hopes this will not be the end, that we'll get to complete the last segment from Thorn Creek Road to Moscow."
That six-mile segment was part of original construction plans, but got delayed after citizens filed a lawsuit and a judge ruled that the department had failed to do enough study on potential environmental impacts of proposed realignment over the western edge of Paradise Ridge.
Helm, project manager for the department, said construction on the Thorn
Creek-to-Moscow section won't start until at least 2010. Three alternate
routes are being considered.
"I think if the governor were here," Schroeder said, "he'd probably say something like, 'We got 'er done.' " Schroeder also championed the need for completing the final six miles to Moscow, calling the new highway "a freeway to a bottleneck" where safety issues remain to be solved.
Sweeney told those gathered additional highway work also hinges on dollars. "I can't miss this opportunity to make a pitch for the additional revenues that we (need)," Sweeney said, explaining transportation board members were unable to find money for projects beyond five years from now.
"There isn't anything new in that fifth year. Everything is maintenance," he said. "There simply isn't going to be any more money to build anything with additional revenue."
Helm said prior to the ceremony that construction of the 16 miles of new highway, which was done in two sections, totaled about $50 million, with another $5 million spent on design and other costs.
Sweeney said state sales tax revenues have gone up 85 percent since 1996 and the state's general fund has gone up 75 percent, but revenue for state highways has gone up only 16 percent. "Yet we have almost, at least 50 percent more traffic," Sweeney said.
He said traffic counts north of Moscow don't justify construction of four lanes at this point, but passing lanes are in the offing. He said the first will come on the northbound lane of Highway 95 over Steakhouse hill about five miles north of Moscow.
"This is the last missing sign," Carpenter told the gathering as he displayed mile marker 320 and then asked all public officials in attendance to autograph the back of the sign.
"About nine years ago, this project was earmarked as part of the Surface Transportation Act," Carpenter said of the new highway. The first public information meeting was held in the spring of 1999. Four years were then spent to do an environmental assessment. The work was approved in 2003 and purchase of right-of-way was completed in 2004 (except for that portion from Thorn Creek Road north).
The first contract was let in October of the same year for the section from Genesee to Thorn Creek Road. Scarsella Brothers Inc., of Seattle, got the contract, and also the second contract for the section from Lewiston Hill to Genesee.
Work started simultaneously on both projects in the spring of 2005 and was set to be done in 450 working days. Carpenter said the highway represents the culmination of a segment of a strategic construction plan, the enhancement of safety along the entire length, and strengthening of the transportation backbone for the state's 10 northern counties.
Photo: Idaho Transportation Board vice-chairman Bruce Sweeney and District 2 Engineer Jim Carpenter attach milepost No. 320, signifying completion of a new segment of four-lane divide U.S. 95 between Lewiston and Moscow Thursday.