One of the reasons so many people love living in Boise and the Treasure Valley is access to world-class outdoor recreation.
Some of the best mountain destinations are just a couple of hours’ drive north on scenic state highways.
Well, a couple of hours most of the time.
Unfortunately, the roads that are used to get there and back are just not up to the task of handling Idaho’s growth and the increased number of cars.
One intersection in particular, Idaho 55 and Banks-Lowman Road, is notoriously troublesome.
Traffic delays persist on summer weekends at the intersection, which is seeing increased traffic and has a history of serious and deadly crashes.
The intersection has one stop sign for westbound drivers on Banks-Lowman Road who must find an opening in traffic to slip into. If they’re turning left, or south onto Idaho 55, they must find an opening across two lanes of often-fast-moving traffic in opposite directions.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
At the very least, it’s a recipe for delay. We’ve heard some reports of people waiting hours just to turn left onto Highway 55 to come back home to the Treasure Valley.
At best, it spoils an otherwise fun weekend with a frustrating and long ending.
At worst, it’s fatal.
A Nampa woman was killed and six children were hospitalized in a 2018 crash at the intersection when the woman’s car was struck by a passenger van when she turned onto Idaho 55 from Banks-Lowman Road and failed to yield to oncoming traffic.
So what’s the Idaho Transportation Department doing about the problem to improve the flow of traffic and improve safety?
They’re scheduling traffic guards with flags at the intersection on select weekends this summer.
Traffic guards with flags? What is this, 1955?
Even worse, ITD cut flagging duties on some days in the summer so it could add flaggers on other days.
ITD spokesperson Jake Melder said ITD has funds to post flaggers for only six days this summer.
ITD has an annual budget of nearly $800 million but has only enough money to post flaggers six days out of the summer? We know ITD has a lot of priorities, but this is hard to fathom. According to ITD, flagging costs the department around $3,500 a day, so flagging for six days out of the year amounts to $21,000.
ITD has looked at other solutions, including a traffic signal, but ITD officials say a traffic signal will only slow down Idaho 55 traffic even more than it already is and could lead to crashes because of stopped, backed-up traffic at the light.
Further complicating matters is the fact that the intersection is bound by two rivers, a bridge and a hillside, making it difficult and expensive to build a roundabout or add turn lanes.
ITD anticipates a need to replace the bridge at that intersection at some point in the future, which would provide an opportunity to completely remake the intersection into one that is safer and more efficient.
While we wait, though, the problem only becomes worse.
From 2015 to 2020, traffic on Idaho 55 south of Banks-Lowman Road increased 23% in June, 24% in July and 28.5% in August, according to ITD traffic counts. That stretch of highway now sees average daily traffic of 9,000 to nearly 12,000 vehicles in the summer.
Traffic at Banks-Lowman Road at the intersection was 3,300 to 4,200 vehicles in the summer months last year, an increase of 20-35% since 2015.
Without a near-term solution in sight, ITD needs to do better than station traffic guards with flags six days out of the year.
A better solution until the bridge and intersection can be reconstructed is to put a traffic signal at the intersection, timed to go off depending on the traffic on Banks-Lowman Road and Idaho 55.
The increased traffic justifies the investment. And the safety of the public is worth it.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.