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Editor’s note: How and why we produced our investigation on Highway 55

Today, we are publishing the result of a long-term investigation into the Idaho 55 construction zone near Smith’s Ferry.

In March of 2021, BoiseDev’s Autum Robertson wrote about a rockslide north of Smith’s Ferry on Idaho Highway 55. The slide happened in an area with a multi-million dollar road widening project that had already been beset by problems.

The road remained closed for two weeks.

Initially, the Idaho Transportation Dept. told BoiseDev that even though the slide happened in the construction zone, it was not related to the construction itself.

But several weeks later, the department admitted the slide was in fact related to construction. But the department also said the “greater hillside” remained stable.

It didn’t.

In November, the hillside in the area again gave way. This time, a slide 200 feet tall and 250 feet wide came down on the roadway. The key route was closed – again -for more than a week over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Then, a third slide occurred in January, when construction activity was stopped.

With this high-profile project clearly having serious issues, and with the public comments of the Idaho Transportation Department continuing to shift, we assigned BoiseDev’s Senior Reporter Margaret Carmel and McCall Reporter Autum Robertson to see what more we could learn.

What followed was a six-month investigation. The pair requested and combed over thousands of pages of documents, obtained under Idaho’s Public Records Act. Then, they contacted experts — and did a lot of reading.

What they found was a more full picture of the situation, which revealed much more beyond the limited and controlled statements.

What the story is missing, largely, is the response from ITD. Carmel and Robertson sent a list of more than 30 questions. ITD did not answer the questions in large part, instead of sending us a statement.

The agency did invite our reporters to the construction zone, but we declined, for two reasons. One, the agency had previously invited a crew from Idaho News 6 to the construction zone the day before the November 2021 slide — even though documents indicate it knew of danger in the area. We put the safety of our employees first, and I didn’t feel comfortable having them in the zone for an extended period of time. Second, the agency said it would essentially just give us a chance to take photos and get familiar with the area. As we had photos and were familiar, we saw no value in visiting.

The story presented today is thorough, meticulous and detailed. Our invitation to ITD to answer our detailed questions remains open.

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Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
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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