BONNERS FERRY — Road construction. Traffic.
These are two things that have been weighing on people’s minds quite a bit recently with the beginning of the work on U.S. Highway 95. When the City of Bonners Ferry invited local residents, property owners, and organizations to participate in an open house for its multi-modal Transportation Master Plan, they drew a large attendance.
The open house took place on a rainy Thursday, May 31, at the Armory Building, from 4-6 p.m. It offered people a chance to voice their opinions, concerns, and learn more about the potentials plans for the city. J-U-B Engineers were on hand with a walk around setup, describing the process, answering questions, and gathering input through questionnaires and interactive displays, including the use of stickers.
“It is a huge part of the process,” explained J-U-B Project Engineer Angela Comstock, as she greeted people at the door, “to make sure that the public is brought in and understands, and has input when it comes to the city’s goals. Are the city’s goals to provide connectivity off of U.S. 95? Are they to make safe bike and pedestrian facilities, or are they to correct intersections? It is really important that the public can drive some of those options.”
This is one stage of the Bonners Ferry Transportation Master Plan that began in October 2017 when the city was awarded funding from the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council (LHTAC) to complete a Transportation Plan.
J-U-B Engineers, Inc. was selected in late 2017 to complete the plan.
“We conducted stakeholder interviews, so folks like the county, folks like the post office and the police, to try to get people on the ground that are using the system,” said Comstock.
They also did a public survey on the Bonners Ferry city website, which included an online map where people could comment and give their input. The open house was the next step in the plan.
“Essentially where the city wants to head in transportation goals for projects and serving the community with their streets,” explained Comstock. “We are here gathering public input. It is part of a multi-phase process where we gather public input, we look at the existing system, crash data, traffic data, and we come up with a list of capital improvement projects for the city to plan, fund, or seek funding to complete.”
At each of the booths, there was someone on hand to answer questions or listen to community feedback, including J-U-B Transportation Group Manager Jay Hassell.
“We are getting a good turnout today,” said Hassell. “This is one of the outreaches that we have done for public input and this is an opportunity for people who haven’t found the survey that was online, or been to stakeholder meetings, or other opportunities that the city has put out there.”
“Our goal is just to hear,” Hassell continued. “We are in listening mode right now, to see what people have to say about the city’s transportation system. It is more than just cars. It is multimobile- bikes, pedestrians, vehicles- we want to hear it all.”
Idaho Smart Growth, a non-profit organization that offers a wide range of programs to make communities more attractive, economically stronger, and safer, had one of the booths that was working on bicycle and pedestrian mobility around the city. Idaho Smart Group Program Coordinator Elaine Clegg was on hand to answer questions and gather information including potential wayfinding destinations, directing bicycle and foot traffic to major destinations in town.
“We are hoping to help Bonners Ferry develop a low stress bicycle and pedestrian network so folks can walk and bike safely and comfortably,” explained Clegg.
J-U-B Design Engineer Riannon Zender spent her time at a booth with maps of the city roads, gathering input from the community. She noticed a desire for connectivity through the local roads in town, and a way to keep off of the state highway.
“Most of these projects are connection projects; connecting neighborhoods to other neighborhood, as a way to get people to a grocery store, or schools, without having to access the highway,” said Zender. “There is a couple of intersection improvement projects as well, like the Kaniksu and Caribou intersection, as well as the Alderson and Paradise Valley. The skew there make things challenging sometimes.”
Despite the effective layout of the open house, with easy access to information and ways to contribute, for some, confusion and frustration set in when they wanted to discuss the Highway 95 project. Although Idaho Transportation Department was in attendance, this was not the focus of the open house. Due to this, there were mixed reactions from the community members that attended.
“I think people are very concerned about what is happening on 95 and the transportation network in town,” said Zender. “The state and the local system are so integral to each other that it is really difficult for residents to separate the local projects from 95.”
Margaret Pyette, owner of Alley Fabric Nook, was frustrated and concerned about the safety of a planned sidewalk on Highway 95, but also had concerns about the local projects.
“I believe that the city is starting to focus more on bike paths and walking areas, turning into Sandpoint, rather than focusing on the travelability in cars- and that is what roads were made for- cars to get safely from point A to point B,” said Pyette. “I spoke my opinion and was very quickly put into my place as far as the bike paths and the walking areas. People can say all they want, but I don’t feel like the right thing is being done here, right now.”
Steve Howlett, candidate for Idaho House of Representatives District 1B, came as both a concerned citizen and as a candidate, saying that , if elected, these would be the officials he would be working with.
“If anyone has issues, that it what the public comment is all about. Unlike some of the ones that I heard about the highway, they said ‘we didn’t know, we didn’t know’,” said Howlett.
“I think that it is informative. I think if you had an hour and a half you probably could read through this and get your own feel for what is going on, but that doesn’t subtract from getting the personal information from all of the leadership over there,” Howlett said, indicating to the open house hosts, chatting with various community members. “They are asking for public input based on the maps that they already have from the previous meetings: How do you like what those look like and is there any room for improvement?”
“One of the things that I have tried to instill in my new position is really engaging the public in a different way,” said Bonners Ferry City Planner Lisa Ailport. “This is fantastic so far.”
The community is still encouraged to give their opinions, even if they did not attend any of the meetings or open house. Comments must be received by June 30. An interactive map with ability to make comments is available at the City of Bonners Ferry Website.
“We don’t know exactly how many comments have come through the website, but it is well over one hundred, plus we are having a good turnout here today, so I’m pleased to see people actually coming out on a rainy day to share their opinions,” said Hassell.
Results from this public outreach will be available for review in August.
City of Bonners Ferry website: bonnersferry.id.gov (click on Transportation Plan Comments)
Members of the public can ask questions and learn more about the plan by emailing Angela Comstock at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 208-762-8787.
For those wanting more information about the Highway 95 project, they can get up to date information and maps at the Idaho Transportation Department website: itd.idaho.gov
(Click on Projects, then District 1, then US-95, then US-95: Alderson Lane to Kootenai River Bridge.)
Shortcut to the construction update page: http://arcg.is/P584v