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North Idaho residents express concerns amid potential expansion of I-90

In less than 30 years, the traffic volume is expected to double, causing concern for residents in North Idaho.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — As traffic volume continues to increase between the Washington state line and Coeur d'Alene, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is looking for ways to improve Interstate 90, which could include adding a third lane.

Since it was constructed in the 1960s, I-90 hasn't changed much: two lanes going east and west with 60,000 cars, trucks and semis every day.

However, the population in the area has changed drastically. In less than 30 years, the traffic volume is expected to double, causing concern for residents in North Idaho.

Brian Rogers is one of those residents. He said he's concerned with the idea of a third lane being added to I-90 in both directions. 

It's that concern that ITD is working to address, according to ITD Public Information Officer Megan Jahns.

"So right now we need to identify what the needs are, how we can address them, and then what's the cost of addressing them?" Jahns said.

ITD is collecting data for a widening study using radar and drills to see if the soil along I-90 can support a third lane. The department is also looking into which on-ramps and interchanges can be improved, as this is something engineers have to consider.

"When you're replacing bridges, you're adding a lot of dollars," Jahns said. "It's a lot easier to add a lane sometimes than it is to fund the replacement of a bunch of bridges."

The improvements could cost anywhere from $600-$755 million dollars. Funding for the entire corridor has not been identified.

"The problem with all of these projects is inflation with steel, asphalt, concrete is going up but that's one that I know the community has talked about it," Idaho Gov. Brad Little said. "I'm quite certain it will be funded."

Kootenai County voters said otherwise in 2020, voting against a $50 vehicle registration fee that would have helped fund 12 transportation projects, including widening I-90.

"I'm just not seeing this being the solutions we need, today," Rogers said. "If everybody was like a train and stayed on their own tracks and was able to get down the road at a consistent speed, then this would be a perfect solution. But it's not, and that's not how people work." 

Transportation officials believe an extra lane would save drivers time, increase traffic flow and reduce crashes.

"We all know when we're sitting in traffic how frustrating it is, but it's also not safe," Jahns said. "If you have stop and go conditions, you have the opportunity for more crashes."

Rogers believes an extra lane would result in more traffic and collisions. Instead, he wants the state to build an alternative East-West route to encourage drivers to get off the freeway sooner.

"We have a larger East-West problem here and adding another lane to I-90 doesn't solve that larger problem," he said.

One thing Rogers can agree on is that Idaho needs to start planning and building for the future now.

"A decade, two decades, three decades from now, what we do today will resonate," he said.

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