Judges clear path for Sand Creek Byway project
A concise order issued by three judges of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Wednesday cleared the way for construction to begin on one of the state’s largest highway construction projects.
“The injunction pending appeal granted by this court’s order of July 9, 2008, is hereby lifted so that construction of the Sand Creek Byway segment of the proposed U.S.-95 project may proceed. A decision explaining the court’s reasoning will follow in due course,” the court wrote.
The decision sets aside an appeal by the North Idaho Community Action Network and will allow work to commence on a bypass that has been discussed for nearly 50 years. ITD received the court’s decision Wednesday.
With the challenge removed, Parsons RCI, of Sumner, Wash., can begin construction on the route that will bypass downtown Sandpoint. Parsons was the successful low bidder earlier this summer; the transportation board approved the $98.4 million contract in June.
Building an alternate route on U.S. 95 on the eastern side of Sandpoint has been a topic of local interest since the 1940s and has generated considerable debate among supporters and opponents. Several ideas have been discussed in the community over the years, but those ideas didn’t progress beyond the drawing board until 1990 when ITD began considering the U.S. 95 North/South Alternative Route.
As part of the U.S. 95 North/South study, ITD completed environmental analysis of U.S. 95 from Sagle to Ponderay as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed in 1999 and the Federal Highway Administration issued a Record of Decision (ROD) approving the environmental document in 2000.
The Sand Creek Byway is a segment of the U.S. 95 North/South Alternate Route. Washington Group International and CH2M HILL worked with ITD to complete the preliminary and final design of the project.
ITD also established its first office dedicated solely to public involvement in downtown Sandpoint in an attempt to distribute project information and answer questions. The office will continue to be a key component in the public information plan used to communicate and update the public during construction.
The byway has received passionate support and equally passionate opposition. The U.S. District Court dismissed a lawsuit by the North Idaho Community Action Network (NICAN) earlier this year. NICAN filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and received a temporary injunction to halt proceeding, pending a decision on the appeal.
Construction is programmed for four seasons and represents one of the largest single projects in Idaho transportation history.