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ROAD TO PROGRESS: State Highway 16 nears final phase

Chloe Baul//May 9, 2023

A rendering of the SH-16 expansion, due to be completed by 2025. (Courtesy of ITD,)

ROAD TO PROGRESS: State Highway 16 nears final phase

Chloe Baul//May 9, 2023

As Idaho’s population continues to surge, so too does the demand for better infrastructure to support its rapid growth. With faster and more efficient travel times, enhanced safety measures, and increased economic opportunities, the long-awaited State Highway 16 extension has the potential to transform Idaho’s landscape and support its continued prosperity for years to come. 

The new highway construction project is causing excitement among residents and commuters alike, as it promises to bring significant improvements to the state’s transportation system.

“I’ve been to so many open houses over the years from my previous positions and other states doing the same kind of transportation work. This was one of the top most well attended public, open houses, public meetings, anything I’ve ever been to,” Idaho Transportation Department (IDT) Public Information Officer Brian Rick, said. “We had several hundred people go through those doors. And in terms of the amount of public participation, it was more than I’ve ever experienced.”

State Highway 16 currently runs from the northern limits of Meridian to the southern limits of Emmett, and ITD is extending the highway south to I-84, providing a much-needed north-south route through central Treasure Valley. It will include four new interchanges where SH-16 meets SH-44, US-20/26, Ustick Road and Franklin Road. It will also include an expansion of the I–84/SH-16 interchange.

The project will facilitate a 7 to 10 minute transit time to get from Point A to Point B along the I-84 to I-44 route. This will make a big difference for commuters and first responders, Rick added, “First responders in particular have a vested interest in a much more reliable travel route, as response time is critical in an emergency.” 

Valor Health, the only hospital in Emmett, announced in March that it will no longer provide labor and delivery services to the city of nearly 8,000 people due to ongoing labor and delivery staffing issues. The new highway project could potentially bring relief to the small town that has been struggling with the closure of labor delivery services at their only hospital. 

“Valor Health is already facing an imminent labor and delivery service divert situation,” a news release said. “It has been increasingly difficult and unsustainably expensive to recruit and retain a full team of high-quality, broad-spectrum nurses to work in a rural setting where nurses need to be proficient in many different fields.”

The highway is expected to improve transportation and accessibility, which could attract more healthcare providers to the area and potentially lead to the reopening of the labor delivery services at the hospital. While the project may take time to complete, its positive impact on the community’s healthcare services cannot be underestimated.

“Part of what brings people, companies and commerce through an area is travel reliability, access to key important destinations, whether it’s an airport, and medical facilities are extremely important, from a business and healthcare perspective, it is essential,” Rick said.

According to IDT, by 2045, the I-84 system interchange is expected to have as many as 65,000 vehicles per day (not including I-84 traffic volumes). Along the Franklin Road interchange, the expectation is 90,000 vehicles per day in 2045. Additionally, current trends for US-20/26 interchange indicate that in that same year, the average annual daily traffic count is going to be at 110,000 vehicles per day.

“If you look around the country to areas where there’s virtual gridlock, it’s because growth outran infrastructure. This gives us a chance to get ahead of that, and to plan for that 110,000 vehicle per day interchange. It keeps the level of service of the road to be more than adequate to deal with that,” Rick said. “So that’s the key, you really have to build for tomorrow. Not just for today. And it’s like anything in life.”

The project is funded in part with Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation (TECM) funds as part of Gov. Little’s Leading Idaho initiative. The program allows ITD to accelerate project timelines to address rapid growth and build critical infrastructure today that would otherwise take many years to fund and build. Construction of the highway extension is in its final phase, which is set to complete in 2024 or 2025. 

Industrial development along the highway expansion?

“Everyone is definitely looking toward the improved McDermott interchange to kind of relieve the congestion. McDermott and Ten Mile are right smack dab in the middle as far as population center goes,” said partner at TOK Commercial Lenny Nelson. “In the pipeline, there are quite a lot of industrial buildings that are going out there at that exit. That’s why a lot of the big distributors want to be in that area, because they can go each direction and serve the entire Valley.”

It’s “freeway style” and difficult access to certain areas along the off ramps may not necessarily trigger retail or residential development boom, Nelson added, but he believes there may be retail growth in areas close to Ustick Road intersection.

“It’s not going to be like Eagle Road, which is packed with retail, I don’t see that happening,” he said.

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