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Say What?

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The idea of "getting real" about the By-whatever is long overdue

The matter of the bypass - or, if you want, the byway (what’s the difference?) -  is so convoluted and full of un-answered questions it is little wonder the courts are involved.

I recall attending one of the early meetings on the subject when real property owners in Ponderay obviously had some self interest. There were three routes on the table. To make it simple lets call them East, West and in the Middle.

The Middle route would have involved going through town although the various bottlenecks and the widening of Pine Street were never really studied. It appeared to be so fraught with problems and a lack of understanding how Sandpoint operated that it never got serious consideration.

Unfortunately, the West route was dismissed out of hand because it was going to be too expensive. Syringa Heights was too nicely developed to be disturbed by a highway. That it would have created a short, four-lane bridge over the river never seemed a consideration. The main objection was cost.

That left the East route which was way out in front because it met the usual North Idaho standard - it was the cheapest at 19 million dollars. That it was the least costly solution prevailed and apparently still does except that while there was a semblance of cost comparisons then, there are none now. At just under a hundred million any prudent manager would be referring back to cost estimates on any other route, if only to confirm previous decisions.

It was my contention then and it still is that we taxpayers should take the broadest possible view of what is needed and will be needed. The long term view is that what Idaho needs is a North-South Interstate highway. Four lanes with limited access between the Canadian line and Boise and beyond. I called that idea I-9 and I still think that is the approach to the problem.

The By- whatever is poor patch job. You can almost guarantee that not too far in the future the proposed route and structure will be deemed inadequate in the clamor to restore Sand Creek to its former role and then improve it as the centerpiece of what will be an ever-increasing destination. It was been done other places with great results so there is no reason to believe it won’t be done here.  

Aside from that rationale, it is almost a certainty that the current proposal will be found to be inadequate. Overruns are as certain as the sun coming up in the morning. I can’t help but believe that those calling the shots have massaged the plan that nevertheless still manages to pain some members of the ITD Board. Frankly, I think the current plan stinks which is another way of saying it does not meet the smell test.

What is needed is some oversight, some form of accountability, someone asking how we got to where we are. We are not testing our own decisions. If you’re cooking up something for the first time you give it a taste test along the way. I don’t see any ongoing analysis of the decision-making process. The folks at ITD are not impervious to making mistakes. If they were they would be the only people in government who are error proof. I don’t think anyone believes that for a minute.

And even if the bypass idea survives we are still faced with a two-lane bottleneck at the bridge, not to mention widening U.S. 95 south of town. If anyone has trouble picturing that, take a good look at the Coeur d’Alene bypass (complete with stop lights).

If the West route requires a new bridge should not that cost be compared to a new, much longer highway bridge? Hopefully the matter of maintenance won’t be ignored. And then there is the matter of throwing the snow from the overpass directly into the creek. A bit more efficient than piling it up on the bank. And when it is finished it is still just two lanes.

The idea of ‘getting real’ is long overdue. Instead of emotional outbursts because of a slow cattle truck or some inconsiderate Canadian trucker, let some managers put their heads to work and do what makes sense. To do that all parties must recognize there are enough legitimate concerns to go around, all of which have some logical basis. If cost is the driving force, let it be after all costs have been considered, not just the contractor’s bid. After all, it’s your money.

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Paul Rechnitzer Paul Rechnitzer Transplanted 30 years ago, Paul is a retiree from the oil business who knows no other place he would rather live and breathe local history.

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