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Big road project will remake winding, dangerous part of Boise-McCall route

Drive between McCall and Boise often?

Get ready for the orange barrels. And delays. Years of them.

The Idaho Transportation will start work next month on a major project to revamp about a mile of Highway 55 north of Smiths Ferry. The work will take more than two years to complete, with one-way traffic and road closures on the primary route between Boise and McCall.

Right now, the windy stretch of road sits along the Payette River. It features narrow lanes, doesn’t have shoulders and many places don’t have guardrails that could use them, according to ITD. The stretch sits just south of the Rainbow Bridge, and is one of the most treacherous parts of the canyon.

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ITD says the roadway has a crash rate nearly a third higher than the expected rate. Many of the accidents happen because vehicles take a turn too fast, and lose control with no way to correct because of the narrow, winding nature of the road. The most recent accident, just last month, closed the road for several hours.

Blasting and walls

To widen the road, construction crews will blast into the cliff face in nine different places. New wire mesh will go in over the top of the newly-cut rock faces to contain falling debris. ITD will also build new retaining walls along the Payette River side of the road.

The changes will allow the road to expand from 24-feet wide to 36-feet wide. When complete, the road section will include two 12-foot travel lanes, plus six-foot shoulders on each side.

Some of the curves in the road will see a smoother route, which should cut down on high banking angles. ITD says the improvements should help cars from slamming into the rock wall, or falling into the river.

Crews will also install new areas for vehicles to pull off the road for additional scenic overlooks on the river.

Full road closures will take place in the spring and fall seasons, between 10am and 2pm on weekdays (except Friday). The road will mostly be fully open in the peak winter and summer seasons.

If everything goes according to plan, the work should wrap up by late-fall of 2022.

ITD map of project area

Corrections: Clarifies that the road will not see closures on Friday and that it will be fully open in the winter and summer seasons (not winter and fall). Also, due to inaccurate information provided by ITD, a previous version of this story said the roadbed was going to be 32 feet wide. It will be 36 feet wide. The closures will also end at 2pm, not 4pm

Don Day - BoiseDev editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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