A Short Tour of Sandpoint's Bypass
It's open... so what's it like?
After a number of decades of complaints, concerns, promises and plans, a bypass of the city of Sandpoint opened in July, and I had to take a tour.
Coming from Clark Fork on Highway 200, the introduction to the bypass occurs roughly at the intersection of highways 200 and 95, with a (probably) traffic-actuated light. I say probably, because I sat there for a bit with no other traffic, but not for a long bit, before the light changed and I was allowed to turn left and enter.
It’s a bit of a steep climb to the bypass route, but once on there, it takes—somewhat astonishingly—around a mile to reach the ‘exit’ for Sandpoint which dumps you into the south end of town.
The views to the right, of Sand Creek and the back end of Sandpoint, are really quite beautiful. Though complaints have been made about the need to ‘beautify’ the back end of Sandpoint businesses along First Ave—which are now the primary view of those who drive the bypass—trees and water take up the majority of the view. At any other time of the year, this might not be the case, but for right now, the looking isn’t too bad.
The same can’t really be said for those traveling south looking toward Lake Pend Oreille. I drive a little car, and for those like me, the lake is mostly not visible at all... though the hulk of Seasons at Sandpoint certainly is. These buildings are simply not to my taste, though others might think they’re lovely. What they really are, however, is a poignant reminder that view property is money property, and unless a community is willing to pony up to reserve that for all its people, it will be limited to those who can pay to enjoy it. Lucky for all of us who live here in North Idaho, or who travel through it, most of our “coastline” is still relatively undeveloped.
That said, major kudos should go to those who persisted in the attempt to add a bike path to the bypass. Though time constraints prior to deadline prevented me from walking it, the parts that were visible suggest that at least some of the gorgeous waterfront property in Sandpoint will still be visible to the regular Joes who live here... as long as they can bike or walk the distance.
Although travel on the bypass is short (little more than half the length of the Long Bridge), there’s still a little time to appreciate the views, given it has (inexplicably to me) a 45-mile-an-hour speed limit.
I crossed the Long Bridge to turn around and experience the bypass from the point of view of those traveling north. We who live here are long familiar with where the exit is to leave the highway and enter downtown Sandpoint proper, but it’s hard to say whether visitors will realize the exit is there. The signage for the bypass leaves one to wonder if cost was based on the size of the lettering—could “Sandpoint” have been written any smaller? In addition, don’t expect any of those typical, helpful highway signs that tell you here is a place with restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc... they’re not there. There is one sign that tells travelers, however, that Sandpoint is home to a hospital.
Coming from the south, the views of City Beach are delightful (as they are when traveling south, as well, though it’s more difficult to see from the other side of the roadway). But as far as promoting Sandpoint goes, the views are a little too late from either direction. Once you see City Beach and how attractive it is, you’ve already missed your chance to exit. Going north, you’ll have to continue another mile, and then figure out how to get back. Southbound travelers must cross the full 1.76 miles of the Long Bridge before their first chance to turn around and come back.
On the northbound leg, I was slightly amused, then slightly annoyed, by the signage that welcomed me to “Ponderay—the little city that could.” I believe there were three signs I passed as I traveled north, and by the third, I found myself thinking, “oh, geez, enough already.” Businesses in Ponderay probably appreciate those signs, however.
There are no signs welcoming the driver to Sandpoint, of course, as the whole point of this road is to bypass Sandpoint.
Should you need to pull off the road, be aware that the shoulders are less than generous. I drive a Geo, and when pulling off to the side to take pictures, I was wary of a driver taking off my door should I open it. It will be interesting to see how this road travels in the wintertime. Think another Long Bridge.
The big argument in favor of the bypass, of course, was to get unnecessary traffic out of downtown Sandpoint. My driving experiment took place between 9 am and 10 am on a Wednesday morning, which may or may not be indicative of the overall impact. Interestingly, however, there were more cars downtown than there were on the bypass. In addition, while attempting to cross Fifth Avenue at the Panhandle State Bank Building, I waited on three trucks (a double-trailer gravel truck, a flatbed hauling a large Cat, and a flatbed full of port-a-potties) which somewhat argued against the idea that a bypass would “get all the truck traffic out of town.”
Nonetheless, the bypass is now here to stay, and we can all hope that it lives up to its promises, and that those “in charge” continue to work to improve traffic flow in Sandpoint.