By Zach Hagadone
Among the agenda items addressed at the April 26 meeting of the Bonner County Area Transportation Team were a number of significant developments regarding the city of Sandpoint’s ongoing effort to implement the “East-West Connection” concepts in its Multimodal Transportation Master Plan.
Specifically, the city is moving away from the “long-term” concept in the plan — deferring “the Couplet” realignment of U.S. Highway 2 and removing an agenda item from the May 3 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council that would have amended the concept to create a new access point off U.S. 2 to South Boyer Avenue, running through the property occupied by Dub’s Drive-In, which the city voted to acquire for $380,000 in February.
What’s more, Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad announced the departure, effective Friday, May 19, of Sandpoint Infrastructure and Development Services Director Amanda Wilson, who has been offered and accepted a position as city manager in Gunnison, Colo.
“Amanda has led some of our most significant accomplishments in her five years with the city of Sandpoint, including overseeing the construction and outreach for Phases I and II of the Downtown Revitalization, our first-ever comprehensive watershed management plan, and updating the snow removal plan and policy based upon public feedback and Council discussion,” Rognstad said in a statement provided by the city. “She will be greatly missed, and we wish her the best as she takes on this career growth opportunity and relocates to be closer to her family.”
After months of vigorous, often heated public debate, the long-term East-West Connection concept — along with high-profile components such as “the Couplet,” lane increases on U.S. 2 and a realignment at First Avenue and Bridge Street — “are on the back burner for the foreseeable future,” Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the Reader in an email, “and there will be future opportunities for public comment and feedback before moving forward with discussions with ITD [Idaho Transportation Department] or undertaking a design process, which will provide further public involvement opportunities and funding.”
That means the amendment to Figure 23 of the MTMP — specifically the access point through the current Dub’s property — is off the table, as well as the entire “long-term” concept, including the Couplet. At least for now.
“The mayor has directed city staff to continue to work on implementing the short-term concept East-West Connection, and not pursue design and public engagement funding for the long-term concept,” Stapleton said. “At such time that the public no longer has a tolerance for the current safety issues along the corridor and/or level of service standards are not being met as determined by the city or ITD, a conversation on long-term changes will begin. This will also provide more time for community conversation to occur.”
Meanwhile, the city will host a Thursday, April 27 open house and opportunity to provide online comments on the ongoing effort to update the city’s Comprehensive Plan, “as well as the MTMP in its entirety as advertised, including both short- and long-term concepts to facilitate community feedback, answer questions and hear concerns,” Stapleton said.
The in-person open house will take place 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. in Meeting Room B of the East Bonner County Library’s Sandpoint branch (1407 Cedar St.). Attendees are invited to drop in to the open house at any time during the event, while the full draft Comp Plan can be reviewed and commented upon digitally at plan.konveio.com/sandpoint-draft-comprehensive-plan through Sunday, May 7.
The Multimodal Transportation Master Plan — which was adopted in May 2021 — can be viewed at sandpointidaho.gov by clicking on the “Master Plans” button on the left side of the webpage.
To view the short- and long-term area maps related to the East-West Connection concepts, look under Appendix A “Networks, Corridors and Improvement Concepts” of the master plan, directly accessible at bit.ly/3ZYzMA4.
Comments should be emailed to [email protected].
The short-term East-West Connection concept includes moving the traffic signal from Church Street and Fifth Avenue to Fifth and Pine; converting the Pine and Sixth Avenue and Pine and Euclid Avenue intersections to “right in, right out”; converting Pine to a two-way street between Fifth and Fourth avenues and removing the curb bulb-out on the northeast corner of Pine and Fifth; installing planters at First Avenue and Bridge Street to restrict left turns from Bridge onto First; and striping and increased signage to limit westbound traffic onto West Superior Street from East Superior.
Asked why the city has decided to take a step back from the long-term East-West Connection concept, Stapleton told the Reader, “A portion of the community is not ready to move forward with the design and associated public engagement effort for the long-term concept. Taking a break will provide more time for staff to remain focused on implementation of the short-term concept.”
Meanwhile, Stapleton said, “We have a highly competent, professional team at the city and have a new civil engineer starting May 1.”
As for securing a staff member to fill the role soon to be left vacant by Wilson’s departure, Stapleton added, “We are actively working on our transition plan and are reviewing our structure and future needs before posting the position.”
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