Update on U.S. 95-Dufort to Lakeshore corridor expansion proposal

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

Anxiety has been growing among Sagle residents about the proposed U.S. 95-Dufort Road to Lakeshore Drive corridor expansion, which the Idaho Transportation Department unveiled at an open house in November 2023. Sagle resident Monica Gunter addressed the Bonner County board of commissioners during their Tuesday, April 16 business meeting, putting a voice to public concern following ITD’s visits to local property owners.

“We got a call from ITD. They came to our house,” said Gunter. “They showed us their new plan to go through Sagle, through our 100-year-old farm, through 17 low-income houses that can never be replaced, through my son’s brand new house, through my daughter’s brand new house.”

The stretch of U.S. Highway 95 between Lakeshore Drive and Dufort Road has undergone multiple alterations in an attempt to mitigate traffic accidents, though none have achieved satisfactory results. The newest proposal is still in the “exploration phase” and is subject to change. 

The plan currently involves widening the portion of U.S. 95 between Lakeshore Drive and Dufort Road into a four-lane divided highway and rerouting it east just north of Gun Club Road in a large arc, which would reconnect with the original route just after Roy Way south of Sagle. The highway would become a local road, and ITD would add frontage roads along both sides of the new route.

To make access to adjacent roads easier, the project includes three overpasses — one from Ivy Drive to Algoma Spur Road, one for Gun Club Road and one to allow access to Bottle Bay Road from both sides of the highway. Finally, ITD proposes interchanges at Dufort Road and Brisboys Road.

“By expanding the highway as a controlled access facility it will provide separation between both northbound and southbound traffic, eliminate cross traffic conflict, and reduce speed variability, all of which are primary contributing factors to crashes through the corridor,” the ITD project team told the Reader in an April 17 email.

ITD’s website states that the project has yet to receive funding, therefore any potential groundbreaking is as many as 15 years away. BOCC Chair Luke Omodt further clarified this point in an April 16 follow-up email to the Reader:

“Bonner County and Sagle residents need to know that there are no funds for this project and no decisions have been made. For all of us who remember the Sand Creek Bypass, that project took 50 years to complete. A project of this scope takes hundreds of millions of dollars that ITD doesn’t have at this time.”

ITD is currently requesting permission from area property owners to survey their land as part of a re-evaluation of environmental impact studies performed in 1999 and 2010. Officials did not indicate when the re-evaluation will be completed.

“What we are doing currently is a re-evaluation of the original EIS documents to ensure compliance with regulations, assess potential impacts or changes that have occurred over the last 25 years, and uphold environmental stewardship,” the project team told the Reader.

The BOCC voted April 16 to allow ITD access to county property in Sagle, emphasizing that the vote did not constitute a decision on the proposed project.

“It’s not a real consequential thing,” said Deputy Prosecutor Bill Wilson. “We’re just granting them permission just to enter the property to examine it. It’s definitely not a signal that we support or don’t support the project as a whole — it’s just basic cooperation.”

Gunter testified that a representative of ITD told her family that, should the project move forward, residents along the proposed route would be forced to sell or have their property taken by eminent domain.

“While eminent domain is a tool available for property acquisition to meet the transportation needs of the state, ITD views it as a last resort and would much rather engage in collaborative, good-faith negotiations with property owners,” the project team told the Reader. “In accordance with agency policy, ITD obtains licensed appraisals for property at fair market value and has an entire process outlined to help guide property owners through the steps for land acquisition.”

As of yet, there are no concrete plans to seize or buy private property in Sagle, and ITD is still exploring the “feasibility” of the route, taking into account local concerns like the proximity to Sagle Elementary School.

“At this point in the process, there has been no predetermined or selected route for this corridor. However, no matter the ultimate design of the project, engineers will take into consideration all needs to mitigate impacts to adjacent facilities. For the school specifically, certain considerations such as noise, access, parking and pedestrian mobility would be taken into account,” the project team told the Reader.

Though Gunter brought the issue before the BOCC, all three commissioners confirmed that they have no power over ITD’s decision, whatever it may be. As the primary route through Idaho to Canada, the state has vested interest in maintaining and enhancing the highway.

“An issue like this requires us to be informed residents of Bonner County and to help our neighbors, which will be the only thing we can do,” said Commissioner Asia Williams. “It is not something that the board of commissioners gets to make a decision on. It is something that if the state wants that land, the state takes that land.”

ITD will schedule another open house in the fall of 2024, giving the public the opportunity to weigh in on the updated proposal. In the meantime, the Gunter family encourages community members to write to ITD with their concerns.

“We are asking for letters. We are asking people to help us fight this,” said Gunter.

For more information, visit itdprojects.idaho.gov/pages/us-95-dufort-to-lakeshore

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.