By Zach Hagadone
Local and regional transportation topics led the regular Aug. 2 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council, with majority votes to increase funding for an updated Urban Area Transportation Plan and approval to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Idaho Transportation Department to relocate the current traffic signal at Church Street and Fifth Avenue to Pine Street and Fifth.
According to City Planner Amy Tweeten, bumping up the contract with Meridian-based AECOM Technical Services by $55,219 is intended “to ensure that some of the priorities in the city’s Multimodal Transportation Master Plan were incorporated, as well as having additional engagement.”
The Urban Area Transportation Plan (UATP) is a multi-jurisdictional agreement between the cities of Dover, Kootenai, Ponderay and Sandpoint; a portion of unincorporated Sagle that, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, is classified as “urban”; and the Independent Highway District.
Federal funds are allocated based on the size of urban jurisdictions, and projects within those jurisdictions become eligible for accessing those dollars if they are included as priorities in the UATP.
Priority projects for Sandpoint are identified in the Multimodal Transportation Master Plan — which itself would be rolled into the UATP as an appendix — and include work on Division Avenue, Great Northern Road and revamping the intersection at First Avenue and Bridge Street.
“Typically, when you have a jurisdiction that has a transportation plan adopted, that is their plan as to what goes into that UATP — it would be the prioritized top projects,” Tweeten said.
The area transportation plan hasn’t been updated in more than 10 years, after surrounding communities questioned why they should be involved when the bulk of the funding went to Sandpoint projects. It wasn’t until after “much cajoling” by state and local transportation officials that the jurisdictions came back together in the past year.
“We’re trying to select projects that we recognize would benefit all communities, not just Sandpoint or Ponderay,” said Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad.
Councilor Deb Ruehle expressed concern over including Sandpoint’s Multimodal Transportation Plan as an appendix, “because I believe there are deficiencies [in it].”
Resident Kyle Schreiber raised that same concern during the public forum of the meeting, specifically pointing to the long-term East-West Connection concept, otherwise referred to as “the Couplet” or “the Curve,” to which many citizens have raised vigorous opposition over the past decade.
“This wildly unpopular plan will be cemented into the Urban Area Transportation Plan,” Schreiber said, adding that the Multimodal Transportation Plan should be amended first before it is included in the UATP.
Councilor Jason Welker asked his fellow councilors that they “seriously look at some of the components and some amendments” related to the long-term East-West Connection concept so the city isn’t again “battling with the community” over what he referred to as “the zombie plan that comes out every five to 10 years.”
Tweeten told the council that when the UATP advances to a draft status, it will again go before council and undergo a public process of review.
Councilors Joel Aispuro, Justin Dick, Andy Groat and Welker voted “yes” to approve the amended contract, while Ruehle voted “no.”
The City Council voted along the same lines to approve entering a memorandum of understanding with ITD to move the Church Street stoplight to Fifth and Pine, but focused much of its discussion on how best to limit current and future truck traffic on Pine.
According to the East-West Connection short-term plan, the signal would move and Pine Street revert to two-way traffic. Meanwhile, intersections at Pine and Sixth Avenue and Pine and Euclid Avenue would be converted to “right in, right out.”
Pine Street is identified in the city’s transportation planning as a east- and westbound truck route, connecting U.S. 95 to U.S. 2.
“I have serious concerns about that,” Welker said, later adding, “The whole purpose of the byway was intended to get traffic out of town.”
Rather, he suggested routing that traffic over Fifth Avenue and the Sand Creek Byway, keeping Pine a local street.
Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said that once the stoplight is moved, it will alter the traffic counts and data, which would then trigger an analysis of truck routes.
“You need to comprehensively look at all the routes,” she said.
Construction Manager Holly Ellis echoed that, adding that approval of the MOU gets the ball rolling on initial design work.
“Let’s get this project implemented, see what the impact is and let’s holistically look at our system,” she said. “Then make our updates from there.”
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