Earlier this year, the Idaho Transportation Department was cruising toward a new type of configuration for the intersection of Eagle Road and State Highway 44.
This changed in March when the department opted to shift course away from a half continuous flow style intersection, where left-turning traffic is shifted to the opposite side of the road allowing through traffic to continue to move, to a traditional style intersection. The redesign came after ITD received dozens of comments in opposition to their initial plans.
Last-minute redesign added cost
ITD spokesperson Vince Trimboli said the proposal for the half CFI came to the department through a consultant because it would result in shorter wait times at the traffic light and would be able to handle capacity through 2040. But, he said the organization gave it another look after residents weighed in and they considered the suburban environment of Eagle.
“(A half-CFI intersection is) meant more for an urban design and Eagle is more of a suburban community and really Idaho 44 is a suburban expressway with many intersections along the 27 miles,” Timboli said. “Continually having to educate the local and traveling public on this new intersection, which would include large sign bridges and beacons, there would be constant driver confusion. We just felt at this point in time we felt the best solution was to go to the traditional widened intersection.”
The new intersection will add additional left-hand turn lanes and will have three lanes through the intersection in both directions. The footprint, $8.9 million price tag and construction timeline will largely remain the same, but it will add an additional $670,000 to redesign the intersection again, according to documents obtained by BoiseDev. This is on top of the $847,000 already spent on a contract with Horrocks Engineering to design the half CFi intersection the first time in the fall of 2019.
Is CFI ‘idiotic’? Or backed by research?
Of the dozens of comments submitted about the project, there were double the amount of negative comments than there were positive ones, according to emails obtained in a public records request.
“Your plan for a CFI at Highway 44 and Eagle Road is simply put idiotic,” Greg Stock wrote in an email to ITD. “Spending millions of taxpayer dollars on another one of your experiments is criminal. The intersection is semi-busy for less than three hours a day, five days a week. The mess you will make is something the public will be stuck with for 25 years.”
After ITD announced it was reconsidering the intersection design, there were some positive comments submitted trying to stop the department from changing its mind.
“Those who have studied the research and those who have experienced this design in other states are overwhelmingly in favor,” Jeff Stucker wrote to ITD. “Those who oppose the design make clear in their objections that their opposition is simply due to unfamiliarity, fear of change in general, or a simple misunderstanding of how CFI works.”
Right now, drivers have to wait an average of 118 seconds to pass through the intersections at rush hour. If ITD built the half-CFI intersection, this delay would drop to 46 seconds. It will be 60 seconds with the newly designed intersection.
Legislators briefed on redesign
Legislators also got involved in the discussions. Idaho Legislature Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, met with ITD representatives about the possibility of redesigning the intersection on March 11, according to emails obtained in a public records request.
Den Hartog asked multiple questions in a follow up email to the department about the cost of redesigning the intersection and any potential consequences from the Federal Highway Administration for changing course, but she did not express an opinion one way or the other on the intersection’s design in her messages. She could not be reached for comment Monday.
House Transportation Committee Chair Representative Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, was CCd on these emails, but he did not comment in writing or meet with ITD about the intersection. He told BoiseDev Monday he did not believe it is up to legislators to determine intersection designs.
“The engineers are the ones who make those decisions,” he said. “It’s not a legislative matter to decide. It’s an executive matter.”
What about pedestrians?
There are also conflicting opinions of how safe the redesigned intersection will be for pedestrians and cyclists.
Don Kostelec, a transportation planner and frequent critic of Ada County Highway District and ITD over walkability and bicyclist access, said this newly designed intersection won’t be as safe for those traveling outside of a car. He said the crosswalks are longer than they would be in the other design, putting those on foot or bicycle at risk to being hit longer. The intersection also doesn’t feature a connection from the bike lane to a path on Eagle Road.
Kostelec also said cars will be forced to pull up into the crosswalk to see if they are cleared to go.
“I look at this as it’s purposely designing conflict for right turning motorists to have to be in the crosswalk to make a right turn on red,” he said.
Trimboli disagrees. He said the redesign’s removal of free-running right turns will cut down on the number of times pedestrians and bicyclists will have to cross traffic and signals will be adjusted to allow ample time for those on foot and bicycle to cross the larger intersection safely.
“My two sons cross that street regularly to go to the river and others have family that use that intersection. This was a big decision at the last minute to make this change, but we felt like it was the best decision given the situation.”