The Idaho Transportation Department was at this week’s Meridian City Council meeting to give a presentation about Eagle Road after mounting criticism of the state’s management of the busy corridor.
The Idaho Statesman first reported on the mother of a victim of a fatal crash on Eagle Road asking for a lower-speed limit on the packed state highway through a major shopping area. Since then, public pressure on ITD to make a change to the speed limit on Highway 55 through the increasingly urbanized area increased.
ITD engineer Caleb Lakey told Meridian City Council that Eagle Road on average has 57,500 vehicles traveling on it a day. In comparison, Fairview Avenue has 28,000. He noted that a speed study showed most people travel around the speed limit while on Eagle Road.
“It really serves as a prime north-south connector in the valley, it was designed that way and many of the features of the highway are for that purpose of moving traffic north and south,” Lakey said.
The highway has been around for decades and was not originally designed to support the amount of volume and business that are now on the road. In 1990, a portion of State Highway 55 was added from Fairview to 84, which completed the highway as it is known today. Lakey said it has since “morphed” and “adapted” to support development in the area. He said the highway will continue to change to support growth.
ITD listed some modifications that could be done to increase safety and accessibility on the highway. This included reopening the left lane when going southbound near the Village, adding digital boards, signage, and more enforcement.
Pleas for speed reduction
The issue at the forefront of the council’s mind was speed reduction. There are three-speed limits on the highway: a short stretch at 50 miles per hour, a short stretch of 45, and the majority is set at 55 miles per hour. Although ITD made it clear that many things can cause crashes and speed is not the sole factor.
“The problem is the context of the speed of the road and what surrounds it is changing.… Back when this road was constructed, there wasn’t a gigantic city surrounding this road. And now there is so we do have neighborhoods, we do have schools. We do have huge shopping districts,” council member Liz Strader said. “So I’m struggling with, is what I’m hearing from you is people are going to go the speed limit. It’s meant to be we don’t see a problem. But my feedback to you is I’ve heard our community does see a problem, because we now have a huge city with a huge highway going through it at speeds that are dangerous.”
Lakey called this highway a “mobility corridor” – a highway that sees many different users including Boise commuters, people recreating, and residents. ITD said they are looking for the most “appropriate” solution to balance all the different users’ needs.
“Not to get emotional, but that’s where I have a big issue,” Strader said. “Because I feel like families of Meridian are sacrificing their kids so that people from Eagle can have a fast commute into Boise.”
Council member Joe Borton was also not putting up with ITD’s possible solutions, saying the speed limit is just “absolutely too fast.”
“It is absolutely too fast for the way it is designed and the way it’s built out. And I would think the community that this highway is ripping through its perspective on that would be paramount. The question that I heard was, What’s the objective metric? What’s the benchmark past which some decision maker says, now we agree it’s too fast,” Borton said. “What is it? Is there some measurable finite determination that tips that makes the decision maker say it’s too fast, we’re changing it. If it’s a matter of subjective perspective, I will give you tons of it. A subjective perspective from our community is it is too fast.”
Lakey said ITD will run a corridor operational study on Eagle Road, then present findings to the city. However, Mayor Robert Simison put his foot down by saying if speed reduction isn’t involved, the conversation will not go far.
“We look forward to working with you to solve these issues. And you know where I am on this, we’ve had many frank conversations from that standpoint, you know what we’ll be advocating for, but I’m also for overall safety in the corridor and I’m open to all conversations. But if it doesn’t include speed, then it’s not a conversation that’s going to go far in my in my area. So that will be my focus,” Simison said.