Idaho Transportation Department Helps Preserve Local Commerce, Jobs in Pocatello Project

As crews embark in February on the second phase of a long-awaited project to build an east-west connector between the Bannock Highway and South 5th Avenue on the south end of Pocatello, a last-minute adjustment from the Idaho Transportation Department will help preserve and protect local and regional commerce, and sustain local jobs.

Pocatello features five companies that manufacture specialty items for industries, supporting everything from aerospace to city zoos. An important part of their business sector is manufacturing and moving equipment for oil and gas extraction. Much of the equipment is very large.

“Typical loads are 23 feet tall, over 300 feet long, and extremely heavy,” explains Ed Bala, district engineer for ITD’s District 5 in the southeast area of the state. “The largest one last year was 28 feet in diameter and weighed 1.7 million pounds. Together the industries employ around 300 local craftsmen in high-paying jobs, and are an important sector of our economy.”

Truck traffic is 30 percent of volume on parts of their route, Bala said.

When the city proposed a standard 18-foot clearance for an overpass, building the street over Interstate 15, no one saw the problem. Wayne Curtis, an ITD maintenance coordinator in District 5, did.  

Click here for a picture of Curtis.

Although not directly involved in the engineering project in any formal way, Curtis explained that because of insufficient clearance, placing the bridge over the interstate would effectively block those five companies from shipping their products east to major markets in Wyoming and North Dakota.

Because of Curtis’ vigilance, the Idaho Transportation Board chose to become a partner with Pocatello and grant $2.5 million in additional funding to bring the street below the interstate and eliminate the commerce-clogging bottleneck.

Click here for Photo 1, Photo 2 and Photo 3 of the project area.

“This means those five companies will never be blocked from their markets, ensuring their continued success and their continued contribution to our local economy,” Bala said. “If trucks stop rolling, grocery stores run out of food in about three days.”

 “It would have been easy for Wayne not to become involved in this project or decision, but he chose advocacy because he feels personally responsible for ITD’s mission,” Bala said. “What this story tells me is that every one of us here can make a big difference as long as we own the outcome.”

WW Clyde & Co., of Orem, Utah, is the contractor on the nearly $13.5-million project.

The first phase of construction (the $3 million eastern half) started in May 2013 and finished in the spring of 2014. It ended on either side of the lava shelf that I-15 and U.S. 30 sit upon. Limited work on the second (western portion) phase carried through the winter, with work expected to accelerate once the ground thaws this spring. The work is expected to finish by early December 2015.

Phase two involves constructing the underpass under I-15, constructing an overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and the Portneuf River, extending the roadway to the west to Bannock Highway, and finally concluding with the paving of all lanes. The project includes blasting and excavation to obliterate the old road, repairing soft spots, installing pipes under the new road, constructing a new steel bridge and backfilling the area. The construction will use hot-mix asphalt paving, and will place an epoxy coating on the concrete surface of the steel bridge deck to combat weather and salt damage.

Some preliminary construction activities along or near the UPRR structure will begin in early February. The two Interstate bridges will begin March 1 with the northbound structure first. Interstate traffic will use the southbound lanes while the northbound lanes are blasted (lava rock), excavated and the new structure is installed.

In mid-summer, I-15 traffic will shift to the new northbound structure and crews will begin work on the southbound structure. The two interstate bridges will be approximately 200 feet long. Work on the 430-foot railroad bridge will continue throughout this time.

The connector will be a two-lane highway with concrete dividers running down the center. A chain-link fence on the bridge will help ensure safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. When the project concludes, crews will re-seed the area to provide vegetation, and install an erosion blanket to protect the new construction environment.

The Cheyenne connector project is sponsored and designed by the city of Pocatello.