U.S. 2 through Sandpoint

Current ‘Couplet’ reconstruction concept would be devastating to Sandpoint

By Kody Van Dyk
Special to the Reader

Fifth Avenue, parts of Pine Street and the Dover Highway from Boyer Avenue to the western city limits are part of U.S. Highway 2, owned and maintained by the state of Idaho. The Idaho Transportation Department and the city of Sandpoint are discussing reconstruction of the portion of U.S. 2 between Cedar Street and Division Avenue. Apparently, the recent city purchase of Dub’s restaurant furthers these plans.

Recently released renderings of the “preferred option” for the U.S. 2 reconstruction show a five-lane highway from Boyer to Division. The Boyer Avenue/U.S. 2 intersection would be enlarged to accommodate trucks and multi-lane turns. Most disturbing, the plans call for a couplet of two — or more — lanes northbound on Fifth Avenue between Pine and Cedar streets, and two or more lanes westbound along the abandoned railroad corridor between Cedar and Boyer.

Coupled with this realignment of U.S. 2 is a highway that begins with a new traffic signal at Superior Street and First Avenue, a traffic signal at First Avenue and Pine Street, and a traffic signal at Pine and Fifth Avenue. 

I call this a “highway” because that is what this corridor will become: a seamless cut-through for commercial and industrial trucks that do not want to take the Sand Creek Byway to its intersection with U.S. 2 in Ponderay. Pine Street will become a blighted commercial desert.

Isn’t this what Sandpoint fought hard against when negotiating with ITD to return downtown streets to city jurisdiction?

The most interesting thing I can say about the design concept is that it contradicts and changes the mindset of years of Sandpoint transportation planning:

• The plan creates high speed corridors instead of a dispersed grid;

• The plan uses traffic signals extensively, contradicting a city policy contained in a City Council resolution to forego traffic signals and utilize energy efficient roundabouts. Roundabouts are safer, are sustainable and allow for smooth flow of traffic. A roundabout at Superior and First Avenue has been in the downtown plan for years. Currently, the city does not own or maintain traffic signals. They are expensive to install and operate. They are also unnecessary;

• The plan uses multi-lane highways instead of the policy contained in a City Council resolution to limit corridors to three-lane arterials (two traffic lanes and a center turn lane). The three-lane configuration is the most efficient system for mobility, pedestrian/bicycle usage and neighborhood acceptance.

There is a better way forward. One that improves through traffic on U.S. 2. One that prohibits through-truck traffic from the downtown. One that is built to a scale that does not divide the city nor dissuade bicycles and pedestrians from crossing between north and south Sandpoint.

Instead of thinking that building more capacity will solve congestion (it won’t), think of cities that you like to visit. I’ll bet they have functioning downtowns; close-in, walkable neighborhoods; and an efficient grid system. Wide inner-city traffic corridors are likely not part of the charm of your favorite cities. Nearly every city that adds lanes to corridors finds those lanes full almost immediately.

My recommendation to the city is to think differently than an ITD engineer. ITD’s mandate is to move vehicles as quickly and safely as possible. They also are uncomfortable with systems that do not involve traffic signals. I have not been able to find even one roundabout on the ITD system, even though the traveling public quickly adapts to roundabouts. 

I believe the ideal concept for U.S. 2 is a three-lane urban section between Cedar Street and the western city limits of Sandpoint. The three-lane section would utilize “the Curve” between Cedar and Boyer. The Curve follows the existing bicycle path that is adjacent to the parking lots behind Matchwood Brewery and adjacent to Foster’s Crossing. 

I recommend a roundabout at Boyer and U.S. 2. Fifth Avenue between Pine and Cedar streets would become a local street and remain two-way. Pine Street between First and Fifth avenues would remain two-way. A roundabout would be installed at Superior Street and First Avenue.

I believe the direction the city and ITD are heading with reconstructing U.S. 2 will be devastating to Sandpoint. A five-lane highway will feel like Government Way in Coeur d’ Alene. There is no pedestrian/bicycle crossing possible on those five lanes that will be enticing.

The discussions that will finalize the design of the U.S. 2 and Superior/Pine corridors are happening now. This is a transformative decision for the city. City Council members listen. Let them know your opinion.

Kody Van Dyk, PE (retired), served as Sandpoint Public Works director from 1990-2016.

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