Drivers may have recently noticed avalanche warning signs posted on Highway 55 near the Smiths Ferry construction project. It’s an area that has been plagued by rockslides and issues as the Idaho Transportation Department works to complete a lengthy overhaul to the road.
ITD says these signs are a precaution.
“Our commitment to safety has not wavered on this project, and the signs are up through this construction zone for that reason,” agency spokesperson John Tomlinson told BoiseDev in an email. “Crews will be back up as soon as weather permits to complete that finishing work.”
According to a news release last November, while construction is paused for the winter, the site will still be “closely monitored.” This means crews will regularly check forecasts, temperature, and snowpack.
“If potential avalanche conditions based on these measurements are identified this winter, the road may be temporarily closed and drivers will be asked to use U.S. Highway 95 as an alternate route until the area is cleared. Project slope finishing work will continue next spring and summer of 2023 and include implementing avalanche mitigation snow fencing systems designed to minimize future risk.”
The project has seen many delays -notably the large landslide in November 2021, which caused that stretch of the highway to close for several weeks. These delays have also resulted in price tag increases. BoiseDev reported that the project was first estimated to cost $18.9 million in September 2019- years later, the estimate has potentially gone up to a range between $52 and $62 million.
ITD said excavation, paving, blasting, striping, and guardrail installation on the highway have been completed and final “construction elements” will be worked on this spring and summer.
In September, Tomlinson told BoiseDev in an email that the final work expected to be completed next spring included erosion control, slope drainage, and stabilization on the slopes of the canyon walls. The date has repeatedly been moved back.