TWIN FALLS • A proposal for a truck route to bypass Twin Falls is back on the table and this has some, including those who live along the proposed route, wondering what’s going to happen next.
The latest plan from Keller Associates evaluates three routes that would go around the city to the southeast, connecting State Highway 74 to Kimberly Road. The first alternative, which is the one the Twin Falls City Council preferred at a meeting in May, would impact 18 properties, and the Kimberly City Council voted last week to not support any of the three proposed routes.
Some of the property owners and Kimberly city officials wondered why they hadn’t known about the route while it was being drafted and said they want to try to stop the route from being built.
“Our ‘displacements’ have lives,” Jill Skeem, who lives on 3300 East, told the Kimberly City Council last week. “They have families, and businesses.”
A couple of members of the Greater Twin Falls Area Transportation Committee have said the plans are preliminary and that any decisions or construction won’t happen for a while. Gary Young, the chairman of the steering committee that updated the study, has estimated it would likely be several decades before the route’s finished, if it happens. There isn’t any funding worked out yet either for what is estimated would be a $30 million-plus project.
“I see where some people have said they don’t want it in their neighborhood,” said Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls. “That’s pretty common whenever a highway project is proposed anywhere in America, the first response of the people who live nearby is, ‘Not in my backyard.’ But I think we’re a long ways from any action being taken.”
Why a truck route?
The idea of a truck route to bypass Twin Falls is nothing new, and those involved in the planning say it is needed to accommodate the industrial growth between Twin Falls and Kimberly.
“If you take the total concept of what is going to be needed in that part of the city in the next 20 or 30 years, clearly some improved transportation routing in the industrial part of town is going to be necessary,” Hartgen said.
This latest study is an update one that was done in 2004 that recommended a truck route from the Hansen Bridge following U.S. 30 to Eastland Drive, then to 3600 North and continuing to U.S. 93. In 2013, the Idaho Transportation Department got funding to update the Southeast Twin Falls Corridor Study. The update also included looking at other potential road projects in and around Twin Falls aimed at improving safety and increasing traffic capacity.
What would the routes look like?
The first alternate would follow 3600 North to 3300 East. The second would follow 3600 North to 3350 East, and the third would follow Orchard Drive to Blue Lakes Boulevard, then follow a new road to 3300 East. The routes may differ, but all three call for a 60 mph highway which would be wider than the road there now, through an area which today is mostly rural residential and farms. All three would entail building a bridge over Rock Creek and a railroad overpass on 3300 East. Their impacts also differ — for example, the first alternative affects the most property owners but requires the fewest acres.
As for why those particular routes were chosen, the engineer from Keller who drafted the report, Nathan Cleaver, couldn’t be reached Monday afternoon. However, as Hartgen remembers it, the other possible routes were either too close to Twin Falls or too far south to be feasible.
Who did the study?
Keller Associates, an engineering firm based in Boise that specializes in transportation and other municipal engineering. It presented the three options to the Greater Twin Falls Area Transportation Committee this spring.
What’s the Greater Twin Falls Area Transportation Committee?
It is a committee of 17 members that meets once a month to discuss regional transportation issues. It includes representatives from the Murtaugh, Buhl, Twin Falls and Filer highway districts; the Kimberly, Filer, Twin Falls and Buhl city governments; Twin Falls County; Hartgen; and representatives of the chamber of commerce, sheriff’s office and the trucking industry.
What was their role?
The steering committee worked with Keller to gather traffic data and provided input as the proposal was being developed. The rest of them weren’t closely involved in the plan’s development, and Twin Falls County Commissioner George Urie, who is on the committee, said they didn’t approve any particular route.
Why are people concerned?
Because widening the roads would mean the right-of-way would cut into their land, and because roads that are slower and not as busy now would become a 60 mph highway. The plans are conceptual as of now, and the details of how any individual property would be impacted are unknown at this point, but several residents have said they don’t want to live along a truck route, with some of the reasons being the impact it would have on their property values and on the rural character of the road.
The Twin Falls Highway District needs to finish its review of the proposals and decide whether to add one of them to its transportation plans, Urie said.
“I think we’re just waiting for the highway district to make their choice,” he said.
Urie said that, contrary to what has been reported previously, it would not involve a zoning change. However, he said that, if one of the proposals is added to the county’s plans, then future development along the corridor would be done with that study in mind.
Will the route get built?
That’s the big question, and also the big unknown. Keller has estimated that the three alternatives would each cost more than $30 million in today’s dollars. Inflation would almost certainly mean that the longer the wait, the more it would cost. Nobody has worked out where the money could come from, either, although Young has suggested some of it could come from requiring private developers to upgrade the road over time. By the time the money is available, Urie said, development could have changed things so much that another study would be needed anyway.
“The problem is, you do these studies, and there’s no money to build them,” he said.