Friday, October 31, 2014

Boise's 11th Street Changes to Two-Way, Third and Fourth Streets to Follow

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 12:04 PM

Traffic was already traveling smoothly down the north- and southbound lanes of 11th Street the morning it opened as a two-way street. The same was the case on 12th Street. Both of these downtown thoroughfares made the conversion this week as part of the Downtown Boise Implementation Plan, or DBIP.

These two streets are just the first in a series of one-way to two-way conversions being made by the Ada County Highway District. They're meant to organically slow traffic downtown, making city roads safer for all users.

Next in line are Third and Fourth streets, as well as Jefferson Street between Fourth and First streets. Capitol Boulevard is also undergoing milling and resurfacing between Front and Jefferson streets.
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Middle Fork Boise River Road to Reopen Friday After Washout

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 4:38 PM

In August, a section of Middle Fork Boise River Road washed out. Friday, Oct. 31, it will reopen ahead of schedule.

A 700-foot section of road near milepost 38 (Big Five Creek) washed out Aug. 7, closing it for repairs. Two contractors worked through the late summer to fix the damage with $500,000 secured from the Idaho Department of Transportation. The section of road was part of Highway 21 access to Atlanta.

Construction was scheduled to be complete by mid-November, but because it was completed ahead of schedule, winter access via Highway 21 has been secured. 

However, Boise National Forest officials are advising recreationists that other roads in the forest remain blocked due to late summer rains and mud flows. These include Roaring River Road. 

More information is available at the Atlanta Highway District. It can be reached at 208-864-2115.
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12th Street in Downtown Boise Debuts as Two-Way, 11th Street Reopens Friday

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 3:04 PM

12th Street reopened Thursday as a two-way street

As part of the Downtown Boise Implementation Plan, the Ada County Highway District is shifting numerous streets in Boise's downtown core from one-way streets to two-ways to slow traffic. 11th Street is also in the process of conversion and will open Friday, Oct. 31. 

But that's not the last word on changes to downtown Boise's streets this autumn. Third and Fourth streets between Main and State streets, and Jefferson Street between First and Fourth streets, will also be converted to two-ways between now and 2015. 

Signal changes and other additions will accompany the conversions. Those include traffic changes on Third Street at Main and Idaho streets, on 11th Street between Main and State streets, and 12th Street between Main and Idaho streets.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another Massive Recall, This Time Chrysler Trucks

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Chrysler announced this morning that it was recalling more than a half-million trucks and SUVs as part of two callbacks for malfunctioning fuel heaters and a software glitch. Consumer experts say possible fires could be linked to the bad fuel heaters, and electronic stability can be compromised by the software glitch.

To date, 6.4 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide in 2014, one of the worst consumer records in history.

The fuel heater recall impacts nearly 382,000 pickups: the 2010-2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups and 4500 and 5550 chassis cabs.

A second recall impacts more than 184,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs from 2014.

Meanwhile, Chrysler's vice president of quality, Doug Betts, has resigned after Consumer Reports released a study that indicated the Chrysler brand's reliability had declined.
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Poor Ticket Sales Ground New Air Service Between Boise, Idaho Falls

Posted By on Sun, Oct 5, 2014 at 10:30 AM

  • Gem Air

A new air service, linking Boise and Idaho Falls, was initially scheduled to take flight this past week, but still hasn't been cleared for takeoff.

The website of Gem Air LLC promised regularly scheduled flights connecting Boise to Idaho Falls, beginning Oct. 1, In 2012, Seaport Air ended its Idaho Falls-to-Boise flights, leaving the cities disconnected. Idaho Falls Airport officials had been working to jump-start the new service, but KIDK-TV reports that Gem Air had a personnel issue "and so few tickets were sold." 

Which means the flights may be forced to shut down even before they begin.

"If the community truly wants a Boise route from Idaho Falls, it's time for them to step up to the plate and book some tickets," Idaho Falls Airport director Craig Davis told KIDK-TV.
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Uber Cars Are Rolling in Boise Today

Posted By on Thu, Oct 2, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Offering ride share in more than 45 countries and 100 cities worldwide, the Uber app has officially launched in Boise. The app allows anyone to hail a "private driver" on their smartphones. The app platform, an alternative to taxi cab services, charges the passenger for the ride so there is never an exchange of payment between driver and rider. Drivers use their own personal cars.

Starting at noon, Uber's giving away 43 free rides to anyone—under $50.   

BW sat down with Uber spokesperson Michael Amodeo this morning, and got a glimpse of the company's future in the City of Trees. Amodeo said Uber decided to come to Boise because web analytics showed many Boiseans downloaded the app, but were then disappointed to see the service wasn't actually operational in the city. He said Uber already has a relationship with several drivers in the area who signed up with the app. He's anxious to expand already.

To celebrate the launch, Uber is hosting a launch party at Bittercreek Ale House this evening from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Amodeo said Uber rates for rides are typically cheaper than taxis. City rates cost $2.60 to hire a cab and then $2.40 per mile, whereas Uber charges $2.50 to hire a driver, and then $1.75 per mile and $0.25 per minute, as well as a $1 insurance fee. To cancel a ride with Uber costs the passenger $5.

For example, a fare from downtown Boise to the North End might cost $6 or $7. From Boise State University to downtown might run $7 or $8. To ride from downtown Boise to Southeast Boise could be $13 to $16.

Applications to drive for Uber include a rigorous background check going back seven years. Applicants with past DUIs are ineligible to offer rides via Uber. All vehicles must be 2005 or newer, have four doors, and undergo inspections from a local business. Learn more about Uber's launch in Boise in the next issue of the Boise Weekly (Oct. 8).
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Highway Fatalities Mar Idaho's Labor Day Weekend

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2014 at 9:00 AM

The Labor Day weekend is proving to be deadly on Idaho highways. 

In Bingham County, 54-year-old Jeffrey Ellis was pronounced dead at the scene of a two-vehicle crash on South 2400 West in Aberdeen, blocking the highway for four hours. His passenger and the driver of the other vehicle were rushed to Bingham Memorial Hospital.

Earlier in the day, a head-on collision on Interstate 84 near Mountain Home killed a Boise woman. Police say 31-year-old Kelly Berry's vehicle was traveling west in the eastbound lanes of I-84 when it collided with a semi-trailer. Berry was pronounced dead at the scene while the truck's driver was rushed to a Boise hospital.

The AAA of Idaho estimates that 187,000 Idahoans would hit the highways this long holiday weekend.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

BNSF Plans New Rail Bridge over Lake Pend Oreille in North Idaho

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM

The train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, near Sandpoint, stretches almost a mile and was built in 1905. - CHRIS BESSLER, SANDPOINTONLINE.COM
  • Chris Bessler,
  • The train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, near Sandpoint, stretches almost a mile and was built in 1905.

They call it "the funnel," and looking at a map of rail lines in the Western United States it's clear why. Tracks from the Midwest fan out and converge on a dense choke point located in the Idaho Panhandle—that's where westbound Union Pacific, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link trains converge before hitting a central rail yard in Spokane, Wash.

But before they reach Spokane, those trains have to pass over a 4,769-foot-long bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho's largest lake. And it's slow going. Completed in 1905 and built with a steel deck and concrete pilings, the bridge is narrow—only a single track—and represents one of the most severe capacity constraints for BNSF on its northern line from the Great Lakes to the Washington Coast.

The rail company, owned by Warren Buffett, is looking to change that, with a plan to build a second bridge adjacent to the existing span.

According to Railway Age, the company is in the preliminary engineering design phase, but confirmed it would construct a bridge 4,800 feet long, made of concrete spans and steel pilings. Track centers on the bridges would be about 50 feet apart. 

BNSF's northern rail corridor hits a choke point in the Idaho Panhandle called "the funnel." - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • BNSF's northern rail corridor hits a choke point in the Idaho Panhandle called "the funnel."

Approximately 50 trains, and as many as 70, everyday chug over the existing bridge, which replaced a wooden trestle put up by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the 1880s. They carry everything from agricultural products and fuel, to cars and chemicals. Recently, controversy has crept up over BNSF's plan to ship coal through the area on its way to massive, proposed shipping terminals on the Washington and Oregon coasts.

Though the export terminals—which would handle coal bound for China—are still undergoing review amid intense opposition in coastal communities as well as towns along the line including Sandpoint, estimates suggest that rail traffic would increase by about 40 trains per day should the coal shipments become a reality.

Rail congestion in Bonner County, where the bridge is located, is already a major problem, with long wait times for commuters and emergency vehicles at many of the 160 rail crossings in the county.

According to a BNSF spokesman, quoted by Railway Age, the company must first undergo permitting, but hopes to have its secondary bridge completed by 2018.

Cost estimates are not yet available, and a call to BNSF went unanswered.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Amtrak's Terrible On-Time Performance in North Idaho

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Writing that its "broken," an article in the Kalispel, Mont.-based Flathead Beacon chronicles how the Empire Builder, once Amtrak's premier passenger service to the West, is regularly late—very late—when it rolls across Idaho's Panhandle for its only stop in the state. In fact, only five years ago, the Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, Ore., had some of Amtrak's best on-time performance rates; but now "delays of three to five hours are commonplace." The Flathead Beacon said things got worse last winter when the train was sometimes 12 hours late.

Which doesn't bode well for the train's future. Ridership has dropped 19 percent in the past year alone.

"When you go from being the number one on-time performance train on the entire system to being dead last, it's a shock," said Amtrak route director Jim Brzezinski.

The culprit?  A dramatic increase in freight trains along the same line, particularly crude oil from North Dakota.

Ross Capon, the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, wrote a letter to the U.S. Transportation Department saying crude oil was being given a priority over people. When bad weather strikes, as it did last winter with particularly harsh conditions, avalanches can cause delays and even derailments, resulting in unreasonable delays. Things aren't much better in the summer. This June, the eastbound train had a zero percent on-time rate.

The Flathead Beacon writes that NARP's Montana representative, Barry Green, called the situation "disheartening and disgusting."
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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Idaho's Lone Amtrak Station Undergoing Renovation

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 3:16 PM

The Sandpoint train station, built in 1906, is the only Amtrak stop in Idaho. - ARIC SPENCE
  • Aric Spence
  • The Sandpoint train station, built in 1906, is the only Amtrak stop in Idaho.

For 98 years, passengers have shuttled east and west through the train station in Sandpoint—including President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 during a stop recommended by Idaho Senator William Borah.

Since 1997, when the Pioneer Route was discontinued in Southern Idaho, the Sandpoint station has been the only passenger rail stop in the state served by Amtrak, but the Gothic-style brick station—added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973—has not weathered the years well.

The building was closed to the public in 2009 after leaks were discovered in its roof. Since then, Amtrak passengers have had to wait on the open-air platform into the wee hours and often in cold, wet conditions.

After years of preservation efforts, that is about to change. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that after negotiations between the city of Sandpoint, station owner Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway and Amtrak, work will begin this summer to renovate and reopen the depot.

Bid to Sandpoint contractor Idagon, the project is funded through about $1 million given to BNSF by the Idaho Transportation Department for stabilization of the station—part of a deal struck during construction of the 2-mile-long Sand Creek Byway, which moved U.S. 95 from downtown Sandpoint to a route next to the building. The funds were transferred to Amtrak, which is in charge of the project.

"The project is a ‘rehabilitation,’ which means we will be bringing the building up to today’s standards regarding HVAC, ADA, etc.," Idagon owner Justin Schuck told Boise Weekly in an email. 

The company will begin by removing toxic materials like asbestos from the building. From there, Idagon will replace the multiple layers of roofing with a style close to what might have been used when the station was first constructed. Matching colors as closely as possible to historic hues, Schuck said roof work will be followed by repairing and "rescuing" the brick, inside and out, and retrofitting the existing bathrooms and communications room for conversion into a waiting room and unisex ADA bathroom.

"The key components of this rehabilitation are keeping the textures/colors/feeling of the building as it was originally designed while incorporating new and more efficient techniques, materials and fixtures," Schuck wrote, adding that Idagon has enlisted the help of a brick specialist and an expert in building rehabilitation with experience in the Seattle area.

Aside from the roofing changes, the Art Deco font on the current sign—installed in the 1950s—will be replaced with the original Gothic font.

"We are bringing her back to the visual appearance as it did for its grand opening," Schuck wrote.

Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan said renovating the depot not only adds to the city's transportation mix, but preserves an important part of its history.

"The depot is the last standing building of the original town, which was on the east side of Sand Creek; every other reference to that town has been demolished either by man or the elements (mostly man!)," she said. "The rehab is the right thing to do and everyone benefits."  

According to Schuck, work could be completed—and the station reopened—by the end of the year.

UPDATE, 9 a.m., Aug. 15: Clarifies funding and adds comments from Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan.
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