'It's a record year.' Ninety ACHD road projects will test your patience and slow traffic

It could be awhile before you drive through these areas hassle free

The Ada County Highway District is having a record year: $61 million in construction work over 91 projects in 2018. Learn about ACHD's busiest road construction sites in this April video.
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The Ada County Highway District is having a record year: $61 million in construction work over 91 projects in 2018. Learn about ACHD's busiest road construction sites in this April video.

The busiest road construction year in Ada County history will eventually give the region wider roads, safer intersections, and more miles of bike lane. Until then, local residents and businesses will feel the pain.

Harvest Church in Meridian created a parking ministry — yes, you read that right — to help its members make their way to Sunday services, after its normally busy stretch of Pine Avenue was closed for widening. Viking Drive-In in Boise lost the drive-through lane it had used for decades to the massive road improvement project at State Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway.

And Robert Bothmer, a financial adviser who lives in Boise’s historic East End, said he is moving to Meridian because of the disruptive road work surrounding the $400 million expansion of St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center.

“I’m as close to the construction as you can be,” said Bothmer, who bought his house just two years ago. It is his first. “They dug up the roads right in front of my house. It shook the house so bad, windows broke, things fell off the walls and broke. … It’s created a traffic mess.”

The Ada County Highway District has embarked on a $61 million construction season, tearing up the roads from one end of Idaho’s most populated county to the other. The agency has launched about 90 projects, and that doesn’t include the St. Luke’s project or road work being done by private developers building houses and commercial projects.

“It’s a record year for us,” said Craig Quintana, ACHD spokesman. “And the whole reason is growth. We’re trying to catch up and, as well as we can, keep pace. … We’re anticipating having big years for the next several years, because it’s all a factor of growth being such a hotbed.”

"It's a record for us, about $61 million in construction work for capital projects, 91 separate projects, thereabouts," says ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana. "And the whole reason is growth." Kelsey Grey

The projects include widening roads, repairing bridges, adding and improving sidewalks, putting in bike lanes, installing pedestrian ramps, rebuilding intersections, constructing raised medians, improving curbs and storm drains and sealing cracked pavement.

A bigger infusion of developer fees is helping fund what ACHD calls “Constructionmageddon.” Developers pay what are called impact fees to offset the future traffic impact of their buildings on the local road network.

After the housing collapse a decade ago, Quintana said, his agency received between $3.5 million and $4 million each year in developer fees. But with the region’s rapid growth ACHD was expecting to bring in about $15.5 million in such fees this year.

“It’s really going to be closer to $20 million,” he said. “And we’re projecting $20 million for the next several years. So that’s, again, an indication of the fast-paced growth we’re all seeing. And, because of that growth, we need to expand infrastructure to accommodate all of the people wanting to get where they want to go.”

Until the roadwork nears completion, complaints are the order of the day. Favorite targets include the Emerald Street street bridge over the I-84 Connector and the intersection of Cole and Overland roads. But Quintana said five projects in particular have caused the greatest disruption. The one you drive through every day might not have made this list, but that could be a good thing. It means that other drivers have it even worse than you do.

“People are never happy with disruption,” Quintana said. “And why would you be, really? It’s a maxim in our business that no one likes a road project until it’s done. But people should know that we want to see them done, too, quickly and effectively and with a product that’s going to last.”

2018 -- ACHD major projects.jpg
Ada County Highway District is having a record construction year. These are the agency's biggest current projects. Provided by Ada County Highway District

1. State Street at Veterans Memorial Parkway and 36th Street

The big daddy of road projects this season is this busy intersection just across the Boise River from Garden City. During the evening rush between 5 and 6 p.m., 4,850 motorists make their way through it, according to an ACHD measure taken 13 months ago. That makes it the 23rd busiest intersection in the county.

One recent sunny Wednesday morning, Kadee Porter, ACHD’s construction coordinator, surveyed the welter of heavy equipment, orange traffic signs and workers in fluorescent vests and hard hats. A long line of immobile vehicles snaked along Veterans Memorial Parkway, waiting for the light at State Street to change.

Viking Drive-In, operating for more than 50 years, is a tiny oasis bounded on three sides by road work. The Cash Store nearby is, too.

ACHD is widening the intersection for $7.7 million. It is this year's costliest project, accounting for more than 10 percent of the agency’s construction spending this season.

To keep traffic moving, ACHD is working on half of the intersectionat a time, Porter said. On this day, the north half of State and the west half of Veterans Memorial and 36th were torn up. A pipe crew was working on underground pipe. An electrical subcontractor was installing underground components for the signal and lighting system. Suez is putting in new water lines as part of the project, Porter said, so, “I’m sure there’s a utility or two working out here as well.”

Viking Drive-In, pictured here, is open, but business is down since the Ada County Highway District began a $7.7 million road project on State Street at Veterans Memorial Parkway and 36th Street. Kelsey Grey

“Looking into the future, this intersection’s only going to get busier and busier,” Porter said. “We started utility work in January. Construction, irrigation improvements, they started in late January, early February. Completion date is Oct. 31. We are planning to be done on time.”

Halloween can’t come fast enough for Julie Moore, who co-owns the Viking Drive-In with her father, Jerry. Hungry motorists traveling west used to have easy access to the burger joint’s main drive-through entrance on State. Not anymore.

“On Jan. 15, we lost the curb cut entrance on State Street and the speakers to take the orders on that side,” Moore said. “For the first 50 years, traffic came at us. [With the roadwork] we had to rearrange the parking lot. Our business is down, like a lot of our neighbors. People have a hard time getting here.”

Now, diners must drive across a wide swath of graded dirt to get to the newly configured entry on a nearby side street. The business’ awning is gone. So is the tall neon sign of a spear-wielding Viking that welcomed customers.

“You can see how destructive it is. But every time I feel sorry for myself, I think of Smoky Davis,” she said, referring to a neighboring landmark business that was demolished in the road construction process and hopes to relocate. “They were good neighbors. And the best smokehouse in town.”

Kadee Porter, construction coordinator with the Ada County Highway District, acknowledges drivers' frustrations during this record roadwork season: "Construction is never convenient." Kelsey Grey

2. State and 15th streets

This business-heavy intersection bristles with warning signs: “Road closed,” “Detour,” “Sidewalk closed cross here.” Yellow caution tape is stretched between bright orange barrels. The air is perfumed with the scent of hot asphalt. Heavy equipment rests beside a mound of dirt nearly as tall as a construction worker.

An underground bridge has been replaced. (It is one of many hidden bridges around the county that are underneath roadways and atop canals, ACHD says.) As at State and Veterans Memorial, half of the roadway is being worked on at a time. Workers are paving the crossroads with concrete for better durability.

Completion was originally scheduled for April 30, but this is one project that won’t be done on time. One complication was a failing concrete test. Another was a surprise discovery.

“State and 15th has been a heartburn for a lot of members of the public,” Quintana said. “And it’s been a heartburn for us. Unforeseen things. You open up the ground, and you find old interurban trolley tracks, and so then the state historical people want to take a look at it before we remove them.

“These are the things you didn’t anticipate going in,” he said. “But you never know what you’re going to find when you open up the ground. Those are the things that we have to work on each and every project. It’s a living thing that you have to monitor.”

Signs of the times on Ada County roadways warn of closed thoroughfares and detours. This construction season is the busiest in the region, with $61 million worth of projects underway. Kelsey Grey

3. Pine Avenue between Meridian Road and Locust Grove Road

The stretch of Pine Avenue under construction starts at a semirural, sort-of-industrial intersection with a smattering of houses and ends in Downtown Meridian. The street is entirely closed for widening. Work is also being done on the irrigation system and a small bridge.

The roadwork has overtaken front yards and parking spaces and complicated access to businesses and houses of God.

“It’s very difficult,” said JoAnne Richter, Harvest Church administrator. “Attendees have no place to park. We’ve been working on shuttling people from City Hall. Especially when the weather’s bad, people can’t walk that far. On some Sundays, we have over 100 people we shuttle in.”

Two months ago, the church started what Richter calls its parking ministry, four volunteers who guide people to parking possibilities before Sunday services. The church was notified of the construction via postcard, which Richter taped to a white board in her office.

“Oh, there has been noise,” Richter said. “We had a special event, a marriage seminar, the weekend before Valentine’s Day. They dug and drilled the entire weekend. … But ACHD has done everything they can to make [the process] smooth.”

Pine Avenue between Meridian and Locust Grove roads has been closed for widening. Here at the downtown Meridian end of the work, businesses and houses must deal with the construction. Kelsey Grey

4. Cloverdale Road between Fairview Avenue and Ustick Road

This stretch of Cloverdale Road is the middle section of a three-part widening project that will eventually give the busy throughway more capacity along six miles from Franklin Road to Chinden Boulevard. Cloverdale is open during construction.

“We have traffic [running] on the east side of the roadway, and we’re working the west,” Porter said. “It’s going along well. Cloverdale is identified as a five-lane facility in our 20-year plan. We did Franklin to Fairview two years ago. Fairview to Ustick is being done now. And Ustick to Chinden will be done, I believe, in 2019.”

But “going along well” might not be the description used byresidents and drivers.

Angie Shingler and her family own a grassy acre that abuts the roadwork. On Wednesday morning, she was working her Arabian horses in the bright sunshine, preparing them for an upcoming show.

Shingler works from home, so she feels every vibration and hears every truck rumble. ACHD took a 25-foot swath along the west side of her land to widen the street. A line of 40-foot trees that sheltered her property is gone. Where a chunk of her front yard used to be, ACHD will erect much-needed crosswalk signs.

“It’ll be nice for everyone else,” Shingler said. “You can’t really put a dollar amount on this experience. If I didn’t have my horses, I’d need antidepressants.”

At Viking Drive-In on busy State Street, the tall neon sign with the spear-wielding Viking is gone, and the main drive-through lane for ordering burgers and fries is now a road to nowhere. Kelsey Grey

5. St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center

Idaho’s biggest private employer is in a multiyear effort to expand its Boise campus on Fort Street and Avenue B. It is building a Children’s Pavilion, which will attach to the hospital via sky bridge. A new central plant, parking structure and hospital tower will follow in coming years.

St. Luke's has added a roundabout where Reserve Street meets Fort. The roundabout got rid of a dangerous left turn but has added long lines of traffic during peak commute hours. Another roundabout will be installed at Fort and Robbins Road.

Trees have come down, and will be replaced. Roads have been closed, some temporarily and some forever. Traffic has been diverted.

What the city and its residents will get in exchange for the construction and roadwork turmoil, hospital officials say, are a dedicated cycle track around the campus, widened sidewalks, intersection improvements and an expanded, state-of-the-art health-care system.

The project is even more complex than it looks. As part of the Fort Boise transportation plan, it extends beyond St. Luke’s.

“The thing that’s important to remember, too, is that the project is really a partnership between us, ACHD and the city,” said hospital administrator Dave McFadyen. “Because when you look at just the size of the buildings themselves and the impact on the road grid, we weren’t going to be required to have to widen the roads and do as much construction as people would think.

“One of the challenges of this project is that it wasn’t just the project around the hospital that the roads were occurring on,” McFadyen said. “It was also Suez water, which took advantage of us having the roads open to redo some of the water mains underneath the streets.”

When ACHD plans road projects, it alerts the region’s utilities. They then schedule work to upgrade sewer, water and electrical lines, among other operations. That saves the utilities – and therefore ratepayers – money and minimizes construction time and the attendant disruption.

The St. Luke'sroadwork began last summer and is scheduled to end this summer. It has caused consternation in the surrounding neighborhoods, which bubbled up over the last year on the neighborhood portal, Nextdoor East Foothills. The most recent online eruption occurred in recent days, after the Idaho Statesman reported St. Luke’s plans for the coming parking structure, central plant and other projects.

That’s when Bothmer posted his concerns, which were echoed by other neighbors.

“Wow, I ended up buying a place almost 2 years ago which is directly next to their current building project,” he wrote. “It’s been a nightmare trying to leave to work in the morning and get home, so now they’re building even more?"

Maria L. La Ganga: 208-377-6431, @marialaganga

ACHD’s biggest road projects underway

  • State Street and Veterans Parkway, $7.7 million, completion October

  • Pine Avenue between Meridian Road and Locust Grove Road, $5.5 million, completion September

  • Cole Road and Hazel Road, $5.3 million, completion August

  • Bogus Basin Road, $3.3 million, completion August

  • Cloverdale Road between Fairview Avenue and Ustick Road, $2.6 million, completion August

  • Emerald Street and Americana Boulevard, $2 million, completion July

  • Cole Road and Overland Road, $1.5 million, completion May

  • State and 15th streets, $1.1 million, completion May

Source: ACHD