Statistics reveal Highway 95 is a high crash area

MOSCOW, ID - The Idaho Transportation Department has been trying to re-do the dangerous section of Highway 95 south of Moscow for years, but local environmentalists are giving them negative feedback.

Palouse Reporter Rachel Dubrovin explains the statistics that motivated the ITD to invest in the project, and why environmental groups are fighting it.

There's little to no debate that the six-and-a-half-mile section of Highway 95 south of Moscow needs to be fixed.

"Well that particular stretch of highway between Thorncreek and Moscow is a high crash area for us, especially during the winter months," said Idaho State Police District 2 Commander Lonnie Richardson.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, it's the fourth most dangerous section of highway in the state.

"It is one of our highest locations for accidents," said Highway 95 Thorncreek Road to Moscow Project Manager Ken Helm.

Richardson points to the section of Highway 95 south of Thorncreek Road as an example of how expanding the highway can help save lives.

"The road from the top of Lewiston Hill to Thorncreek when it was finished, our crashes reduced by about 65%," said Richardson.

From the beginning of 2010 till the end of 2011, there was a total of 24 crashes on that four-lane section of highway. During that same time, there were 47 crashes on the two-lane section between Thorncreek and Moscow, three of which were fatal.

"We see a lot of head on crashes, we see a lot of sideswipe crashes," said Richardson.

ITD has developed three options, for a new highway, and they made it clear that they support the eastern alternative known as "E-2".

"It's the shortest," said Helm. "It's got the fewest access points, fewest approaches along the whole route."

And Idaho State Police backs that decision.

"Our preference is the E-2 route for sure, because it's the straightest," said Richardson. "We found that when you can straighten a road out and widen the road out, then crashes will reduce."

But there is opposition, particularly from environmentalists who say putting a highway near Paradise Ridge endangers the Palouse Prairie ecosystem.

"The spread of weeds would encompass all of this yellow area, which goes all the way up to the top of the ridge," said Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition Secretary Mary Ullrich.

Environmental groups like the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition back the central alternative known as "C-3". They say the only reason ITD calls it the least safe alternative is because their studies were incomplete.

"They did not consider wildlife, and collisions with wildlife," said Ulrich.

The Paradise Ridge Coalition doesn't give much credit to the idea that E-2 is safer.

"All of them are safe," said Ulrich.

A decision has yet to be made, and those who drive that stretch of highway 95, as well as the families of those who have lost loved ones due to fatal crashes, hope that the wait comes to an end soon.

The Idaho Transportation Department will accept public comment on the project until Monday. After that, they will review every comment and develop a final environmental impact statement.