SPOKANE — Interstate 90 is already congested in the Coeur d’Alene metro area, and traffic volumes are expected to double by 2045.
The Idaho Transportation Department is looking to reduce that congestion to the tune of a $1 billion multiphase project that would add lanes to the interstate from the Washington border to Coeur d’Alene. Other improvements are also proposed to make the freeway safer and more efficient.
“For North Idaho, these projects are the biggest we’ve ever done,” said Megan Jahns, ITD public information officer.
The project would widen I-90 from two lanes to three lanes in each direction from the state line to State Highway 41 in Post Falls, two lanes to four lanes from Highway 41 to Northwest Boulevard in Coeur d’Alene and two lanes to three lanes from Northwest Boulevard to 15th Street in Coeur d’Alene, Jahns said.
The proposed $1 billion-plus project would be done in phases, but a timeline has not been established. ITD is seeking public comment on the I-90 corridor study through Nov. 15 at surveymonkey.com/r/i90corridor.
The project is broken out into four sections of I-90 — the state line to Post Falls, the Post Falls area, Coeur d’Alene West and Coeur d’Alene East.
The highest priority is Coeur d’Alene West, or State Highway 41 in Post Falls to 15th Street in Coeur d’Alene, Jahns said. Highway 41 to U.S. Highway 95 in Coeur d’Alene is the focus of that stretch of I-90, she said.
“That is our most congested area now,” Jahns said. “It’s still going to be our most congested area in the future.”
ITD is already reconstructing the interchange at I-90 and Highway 41 in Post Falls. That $78 million project, which is unrelated, is expected to wrap up by 2025.
Jahns said the design process for adding lanes from Highway 41 to Highway 95 is funded by the state and 2024 is the earliest construction would start.
Besides widening the interstate from the state line to Coeur d’Alene, Jahns said several other improvements are proposed, including modifying access points.
“In the process of widening I-90, we’re going to need to take out and build bridges bigger and wider,” she said.
Interchange improvements at Northwest Boulevard, Highway 95 and Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene are proposed. Widening those three roads and possibly replacing the Seventh Street bridge over I-90 in Coeur d’Alene are other possibilities.
Jahns said the Seventh Street bridge would need to be removed so crews can add lanes underneath it.
“The question then comes up, ‘Is there value in putting that bridge back?’ That’s what we’re asking people,” she said.
No part of the up to $1.2 billion project has been funded for construction, Jahns said. Historically, funding for highway projects came from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. However, Jahns said the I-90 corridor study at this point is funded by Gov. Brad Little’s Leading Idaho initiative and allows ITD to tap into sales tax funding.
“Before this funding, we were at a shortfall even just to maintain the system we had, much less add to it and accommodate all the growth we’re seeing,” Jahns said. “So from an agency perspective, this new bonding program allows us to start addressing safety and capacity problems instead of only being forced by budget to focus on maintenance problems.”
Several residents attended an ITD informational session that highlighted the I-90 corridor project Wednesday night in Coeur d’Alene.
Kelly Hanson, a Hayden resident, said he favored some of the proposed interchange improvements as well as the widening of the interstate, which he said would make drivers safer and allow them to travel more efficiently.
He said the additional lane or two on the interstate would make more room for emergency vehicles as well.
Amy Yardley, who lives along Interstate 90 near the Northwest Boulevard exit, said she hopes a sound wall along the interstate is part of the plan.
“It’s a little frustrating because it doesn’t seem to be part of the plan and it just seems to be so impactful for the people who live next to the freeway,” she said.
Yardley said adding more lanes sounds like a good idea, though. She said drivers get frustrated with traffic congestion, drive too fast and don’t expect stop-and-go traffic, resulting in collisions.
“It feels treacherous now to drive it,” Yardley said.