Traffic & Transportation

Boise’s Broadway Bridge closure causes less consternation than expected

David Cobb, assistant manager at Qdoba Mexican Grill, feared the closure of the Broadway Avenue Bridge would drive business away.

The Mexican eatery sits a short distance north of the bridge, on the east side of Broadway. It relies on traffic going both directions to bring in customers for tacos, burritos and other favorites.

Three weeks in, the impact has been less than anticipated.

“We’re doing better than I expected,” Cobb said. “I thought it was going to hit us a little bit harder.”

The bridge across the Boise River, built in 1956, was closed so it could be demolished and replaced with a new structure. The new $20.2 million bridge will feature six traffic lanes, 10-foot-wide sidewalks, three 18-foot-wide scenic overlooks on both sides, and stairs and ramps to the Boise Greenbelt.

Knife River is the general contractor.

Q: So what’s the plan?

Construction on the bridge is expected to be completed this fall, and the bridge is designed to last at least 75 years. Officials say closing the bridge completely and having crews work around the clock will cut construction costs by $3.5 million and speed up the timeline for the project from 18 months to nine.

The old bridge outlived its design life and does not meet today’s safety standards. It can no longer accommodate the 25,000 vehicles that cross it each day, along with numerous bicyclists and pedestrians, officials said. In the next 10 years, usage is expected to increase by 10,000 vehicles and other users.

A portion of the old bridge on the north side has already been removed. Last week, crews began hammering 65-foot-long steel beams into the ground that will provide the foundation for the new bridge.

That part of the project takes place daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and causes loud noise and vibrations; it’s expected to take up to six weeks. In all, 168 of the beams will be drilled into the rock beneath the river.

Q: What options do drivers have?

The Broadway Bridge is one of only a handful of vehicle bridges near Downtown Boise that cross the river, limiting the number of alternate routes for motorists.

Area traffic is being diverted to West ParkCenter Boulevard, which crosses the river about one-half mile northeast of Broadway via Beacon Street. Motorists can also use Boise Avenue, along with West University Drive through the Boise State University campus and South Capitol Boulevard.

A portion of Broadway north of University Drive remains open to allow customers to reach the Chili’s restaurant and other nearby businesses. They can leave along the same route.

The Idaho Transportation Department has worked closely with the Ada County Highway District to adjust the timing of traffic lights for increased traffic on the detour route, ITD spokeswoman Jennifer Gonzalez said.

“It’s on the top of all of our agendas to make the area accessible and remind the public that the businesses are open,” Gonzalez said.

Q: What routes have been most effective?

Not surprisingly, the answer varies by where you are and where you’re trying to go.

Josh Schreiter, who lives near Broadway and Boise Avenue, said the impact to his daily commute has been minimal.

“The closure has only added a minute or two to my commute downtown, using ParkCenter, whether it be by car or bike,” Schreiter said. “The real headache has been trying to navigate around campus. It’s really clogged up (at) University and Boise right there by Capitol.”

Jill Kuraitis, who lives in Southeast Boise, said she uses the Connector to come Downtown, then follows the detour route from West Myrtle Street to the West ParkCenter Boulevard Bridge, Beacon and Broadway.

“There is sometimes a little backup on eastbound Myrtle approaching Broadway on the north side of Julia Davis (Park), but, seriously, it’s no big deal,” she said.

Jodi Imel agreed. She also lives near Broadway and Boise Avenue and “goes that way a lot,” she said.

“It’s not bad. You just have to plan for it taking extra time to get places,” Imel said.

Eagle resident Lisa Parker Isaak said she normally comes to work on the Connector, turning south onto Broadway from Myrtle Street. Since the bridge closure, she’s tried a couple of different routes and hasn’t experienced any real delays.

Boisean Claudia Smith Glynn said she normally goes to work using River Street and Capitol Boulevard to reach Federal Way. Since the bridge closed, she said, that route has been a “nightmare in both the morning and evening,” taking her 50 minutes one evening last week to go less than 2 miles.

She changed her route and now uses South Americana Boulevard, Peasley Street, West Rose Hill Street and Vista Avenue to reach Federal Way.

“It’s much faster,” she said.

Q: What do local businesses say?

Bruce Green — team leader at Whole Foods, located northwest of the bridge — said the closure has led to vehicles backing up somewhat during morning and afternoon rush hours on Myrtle Street, but it hasn’t been a huge problem.

“People have adapted pretty quickly to the detours and they’re actually working pretty smoothly,” Green said. “We kind of planned for the worst and hoped for the best, and it’s really turned out better than we hoped for.”

Kevin Martinez, a manager for Ram restaurants in Boise and Meridian, said his restaurant located next to the Greenbelt northeast of the bridge has seen little effect.

“I’m sure it’s a little bit of an inconvenience for folks, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping people,” he said.

Q: Will river floating be affected this summer?

The Boise River is currently closed around the construction zone. The Idaho Transportation Department is working to see whether the river can be reopened during the summer tubing season, when people float the river between Barber Park and Ann Morrison Park, Gonzalez said.

If the closure remains, floaters would have to get out of the water before reaching Broadway, pack their tubes and rafts on land, and then get back in the water farther downstream.

Q: What about Boise State’s first home game?

Gonzalez would not say whether the new bridge will be open by the time of the home opener for the BSU football team. The Broncos host Washington State on Sept. 10. The construction crews, who are working around the clock seven days a week, are going as fast as they can, she said.

“We don’t have an exact date but our plan is to have this bridge completed by early fall 2016, and that’s ... what we are committing to in that respect,” Gonzalez said.

Q: I use the Greenbelt. What do I need to know?

Bicyclists heading east on the north side of the Boise Greenbelt are being diverted onto Myrtle Street and Park Boulevard before rejoining the Greenbelt at Ferguson Street. A concrete barrier separates bicyclists from other motorists on Myrtle and Park, and they’re given a full traffic lane.

On the south side, bicyclists follow a portion of Cesar Chavez Lane along the northeastern corner of the Boise State campus, then get back on the Greenbelt via Belmont Street and Leadville Avenue. Signs guide the way.

When the project is completed, it will provide paved ramps from the Greenbelt to Broadway Avenue. Three of the four sides will also have a staircase leading to the road.

A new boat ramp will be constructed at the southeast corner to provide emergency responders access to the Boise River.

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

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