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Canyon County drivers may soon say goodbye to I-84 bottlenecks

The Interstate 84 overpass at Franklin Boulevard in Nampa, Exit 36, looking west. The wider, resurfaced I-84 lanes abruptly stop at the Franklin overpass and narrow to two cracked, rutted lanes.
The Interstate 84 overpass at Franklin Boulevard in Nampa, Exit 36, looking west. The wider, resurfaced I-84 lanes abruptly stop at the Franklin overpass and narrow to two cracked, rutted lanes. Idaho Statesman file

Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday and learned some good news: Idaho is on the short list to get a $90 million federal grant to widen Interstate 84 in Nampa.

Idaho's GOP delegation — Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador — jointly announced the news Wednesday.

If awarded, the grant will cover about 60 percent of the project’s $150 million price tag. The project would add a third lane to each direction of the 2.8-mile section between the Karcher Road and Franklin Boulevard interchanges. State and local money will pay for the rest.

“I-84 is long overdue for improvements, and the national freight network’s growing dependence on that route for transportation has only added to the urgency of this work," Risch, who also received a call from Chao, said in a news release. "Expansion of the corridor will reduce congestion in and around the Ada-Canyon County area, alleviating the long rush hour commute for Idahoans. And the increased interstate commerce through Idaho will be great for Idaho farmers, producers, manufacturers and all commercial traffic, allowing more of our state products to be distributed domestically and internationally.”

But first, Congress' House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works have 60 days to review the proposal before the grant can be made.

“Having driven this stretch of highway many times, I agree that growth and safety concerns make widening Interstate 84 through southwest Idaho a critical concern — something many Idahoans experience every single day,” Crapo said. “This project goes a long way toward increasing our regional and global competitive advantages. We hope it will be completed in two to three years."

Construction could begin as soon as the end of this year and will take about three years to complete, according to ITD.

This section has been problematic for years. It sees nearly 100,000 vehicle trips per day. Commercial trucks comprise a significant percentage of that traffic.

“The stretch of highway between Caldwell and Nampa is atrocious, “ Caldwell Mayor Garrett Nancolas told the Statesman in 2014.

The Idaho Transportation Department spent nearly $500 million from 2007 to 2015 improving a 24-mile stretch of I-84 through Ada County and a small portion of Canyon County, including rebuilding eight of nine interchanges, adding one new interchange and widening the highway to at least four lanes in each direction between Broadway Avenue in Boise and Garrity Boulevard in Nampa.

But when drivers venture west of Nampa’s Franklin Boulevard exit, they are in for a rough ride: The road suddenly changes from a smooth-sailing wide freeway to a narrow, two-lane road with ruts and cracks.

The reason? ITD ran out of money.

Now, thanks to Idaho lawmakers approving more bonds, an improved economy and federal money, like this grant, ITD is preparingto improve Canyon County's freeway.

In addition to the Franklin-to-Karcher project, the state expectsto widen I-84 from Karcher Road to Caldwell, an estimated $330 million project.

In 2017, the Idaho TransportationBoard allocated $236 million in GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds toward the Nampa-to-Caldwell project. Additional state funds and federal dollars will also go toward the project.

ITD is conducting a traffic study and an environmental evaluation of the Nampa-to-Caldwell project, which should take about 18 months. Once the traffic study and environmental evaluation is approved, ITD expects to decide how far west into Caldwell improvements need to be made and tobegin design, right-of-way plans and construction.

ITD is hosting three community open houses in June to present and gather commentsabout the plan:

Tuesday, June 26, Thomas Jefferson Charter School, 1209 Adam Smith Ave., Caldwell, 4-7 p.m.

Wednesday, June 27, Happy Day Transit Center, 5907 Cleveland Blvd., Caldwell, 4-7 p.m.

Thursday, June 28, Hampton Inn, 5750 Franklin Road., Nampa, 4-7 p.m.

Cynthia Sewell is Idaho Statesman's government and investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.
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