ASHTON - The Idaho Department of Transportation plans to reduce the speed limit on Highway 20 south of Ashton from 45 to 35 miles per hour by the end of the month.
It proved a quick response to a meeting held between ITD and Fremont County Commissioners and Ashton officials earlier last week. There officials asked that the speed limit be reduced, and that other safety measures be implemented.
ITD spokesperson Megan Stark made the announcement on Thursday. She noted ITD has had concerns over the Highway 20-Highway 47 intersection and sees the need to create more safety measures.
“Crews will install a flashing stoplight on ID-47 at the intersection, install rumble strips to alert drivers approaching the intersection, and the department will be reducing the speed limit on US-20 through Ashton from 45 mph to 35 mph. Future safety plans for the area include installing flashing school zone warning signs on US-20 through the city,” Stark stated.
Rumble strips are often used on the edges of highways to alert drivers that they’re driving too far off the road.
"They are cut grooves in the asphalt, so it gets your attention," said Ashton Police Chief Greg Griffel.
The new safety measures come about three weeks after the accident where a man driving a Toyota Camry drove off of Highway 47 onto Highway 20. There he hit a boat trailer being pulled down Highway 20 by a Ford Excursion. The boat landed on a Ford Focus. The Excursion rolled on its top while the Focus overturned onto its side.
Stark said the recent accident was one reason for installing the safety devices so quickly. Last week, ITD officials met with Ashton Mayor Teddy Stronks, Griffel and Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries about the increasing problems at the intersection.
“We’ve been looking at this intersection for quite a while due to the setbacks on the project to put in the light on that intersection. We have been working with the city of Ashton and Fremont County commissioners. We’ve been working with the local jurisdiction on figuring out what we can do in the meantime,” she said.
ITD had originally planned to install a four-way traffic signal on the highway next year at a cost of around $1.6 million. Those plans were derailed after the Idaho Historical Society raised concerns over the traffic lights negatively impacting the Frostop's iconic mug and asked for a design change. The mug has been a part of Ashton for decades.
Humphries has long been an advocate for the reduction in the Highway 20 speed limit and has noted that most highways that run through a city like Ashton have a 35 mile per hour speed limit. He was glad to learn of the change.
“That’s good news, I’m glad to hear it,” he said.
The city council has also taken measures to reduce accidents at the intersection by removing trees that blocked signage indicating that Highway 20 approached.
“The man in the accident said, he didn’t see a highway sign coming up. They were there, behind the trees,” said Ashton City Clerk Cathy Stegelmeier.
Currently, the Highway 20/47 intersection is controlled by stop signs on Highway 47 as travelers drive out of Ashton onto Highway 20. ITD has repeatedly reported that there is enough traffic at the intersection in question to warrant traffic lights.
“The need of having a signal light there is very evident. People trying to get on US 20 from 47 or from the county road that goes to the west, end up being stuck there for some time. There’s so much traffic. People take risks, and it becomes dangerous,” Humphries said. “We continually see people who are not paying attention while they’re driving.”
A 2016 ITD report states that an average 7,000 cars travel through that intersection yearly. In July, that amount doubles to 14,000. ITD has also expressed an enormous amount of concern for pedestrians, and especially school children, trying to navigate the intersection onto Highway 20.
Griffel was glad to see ITD so quickly responding to the city's concerns over the Highway 20/47 intersection.
"They're really stepping up trying to make that intersection safer by doing a lot of work and getting it done," he said.