In just two years, U.S. Highway 20 will undergo some major changes with the addition of two lanes running both directions and traffic signals installed at the U.S. Highway 20 and Idaho Highway 47 intersection in Ashton.
It’s estimated that it will cost around $1.3 million to make the upgrades.
Idaho Transportation Department officials Megan Stark, Jason Metzger and Jeremy Pettingill spoke during the Ashton City Council meeting held Wednesday. There, the group told council members it was their hope the added stoplight would slow down traffic.
The intersection is notorious for accidents and last summer experienced a pile up that sent several people to the hospital. The city and ITD have worked to remedy the situation by adding flashing stoplights and rumble strips in hopes of slowing motorists down at the intersection.
“(The stoplight) will help with the amount of cars coming onto U.S. 20. That’s the purpose. There will be preemptive signs with yellow signs that will alert you a signal is coming. That will be on each side to help alleviate a surprise red light,” Metzger said.
Two years ago, plans were made to install the stoplights, but, after the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office expressed concern that changing the intersection would damage the historical value of the neighborhood, a redesign was requested.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Ashton Police Chief Greg Griffel questioned whether the proposed traffic lights would make the intersection any more secure if the speed limit wasn’t also reduced.
“I don’t have an issue with a stop light for traffic, but I just can’t see the speed limit of 45 with a stop light (being) considered safe,” he said.
The Ashton City Council, the Ashton Police and the Fremont County Sheriff’s office have long urged ITD to lower the speed limit with little success. ITD has consistently said that such a speed limit is common on similar highways.
For now, ITD is conducting an environmental assessment study. Part of the work involves getting permission from other impacted parties to purchase right-of-ways along Highway 20.
The 2023 intersection project will eventually connect with another ITD project currently under construction on Highway 20 near Chester.
“These two projects meet at the same point. The Chester to Ashton (project) will end right where the (Ashton) project begins,” Metzger said.
Councilwoman Teresa Hansen asked the ITD officials about meeting on a regular basis to discuss the ongoing highway construction. She cited concerns about Ashton Elementary School neighboring the intersection as well as the number of school buses and large trucks accessing the crossing.
“At one time, you met with us every three months. (Could we) have another meeting to discuss this a little bit?” she asked.
Stark, Metzger and Pettingill agreed to return to discuss the ongoing roadwork on the highway.
“We plan on coming back. We’ll set up a time, and we’ll actually bring the plans with us. That way you can see the entire layout,” Pettingill said.
The council also asked the ITD officials about patching potholes along state highways and especially on the road from Ashton to Fall River. The council noted that the road was “beating the hell” out of vehicles.
Griffel also noted that semitrailers traveling down the highways routinely blow out tires because of potholes.
“Is there a way we can get a better patch?” he asked. “It’s destroying vehicles.”
ITD plans to repair the patches later this year, and, depending on the weather, will use what it calls “hot and cold mixes” to fix potholes.
“We can’t use the hot mix because of the temperature (at times). We have to use the cold mix because of the surroundings (at other times),” Stark said.
The council thanked the ITD for attending the meeting and said it looked forward to meeting in the future. The council meets again at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 10. For more information call 208-624-4482.