Another look at Willow Bay access

Our City
by A.F. Mayor Marc Beitia

I get the feeling once in a while that folks think I am just plain oblivious. I must be hard to talk to, too. Most folks don’t take a hankerin’ to that much either. Both may be true. But, as I have written before, I do listen; and things eventually get to me second or third hand.

A little over a year ago there was a death at Willow Bay. A train was stopped at the crossing leading to the area. Emergency response vehicles had no access or feasible alternative to get to the heart attack victim. I was told he would have passed regardless of the 15 minute delay.

Not long after that death, a grant opportunity came across my desk via the good folks at Keller and Associates Engineering. We had a very short time to get it completed and submitted. Oftentimes the best decisions and alternatives don’t come readily to mind or hand in a time crunch, but we did the best we could. The results of the existing approved application are what have so many up in a F.L.A.P. and all aflutter.

All-in-all that is a good thing; because at least it gets people talking to one another, and eventually I hear about it. To be fair, Jordan Gehring talked to me about it as he was contemplating proceeding with his new subdivision off Lakeview Road and I heard rumblings from the good folks with the county highways. More recently I have heard from your city council members, as they have heard from you.

I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but every once and a while I generate a spark. I get that the currently approved concept of the Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) is not popular. I get that folks don’t want to close Hillcrest on the Lee Street side of the State Highway 39 Bypass. I get that people don’t want to access Willow Bay via Idaho Street. I get all the concerns, I had them too. What I didn’t have was a viable solution to the existing problems associated with fulltime unimpeded emergency access to Willow Bay and a way to make the Bypass crossing at Fort Hall safer.

The city council discussion initiated by Stuart Pankratz two weeks ago got me thinking. Sometimes you have to go on vacation to get the cobwebs kicked loose in the attic. I wish I could claim that I came up with the first option while on vacation but, alas it was Wednesday night after a rather long council meeting when it dawned on me.

The solution I have in mind passes muster with both Keller Engineering and Ed Bala, Idaho Transportation Department. I still have to run it up the flag pole with the federal lands folks. But from what both Jim Mullen at Keller and Ed have told me the idea meets the intentions of the original grant.

The idea is twofold: First, rather than putting in a paved road around the Simplot Soil Builders plant just west of the bypass to Idaho Street, an improved gravel road would be installed to grade at the bottom of the swale and restricted to emergency access only. It would be constructed so that it could be maintained during storms and winter months. The remaining grant funds would then be used to redesign and rebuild the east side of the railroad overpass to include turn lanes and straighten the approaches from Willow Bay and Fort Hall to improve visibility right and left for a safer crossing. It is only an idea at this point.

During a meeting with Jim Mullen and Jeanne Bailey at Keller’s Friday afternoon, Jim surfaced another idea. This one involves the cooperation of the Union Pacific Railroad, which I tentatively gained via a phone call with Bill Ince, and would move the track crossing some distance to the northeast allowing a road to be built off the Bypass and extend almost directly out to the Willow Bay Campground. This option solves several future housing and business development issues, but may be beyond the funding level of the grant given the length of paved road required. This option would also include the improved gravel road emergency access off the west side of the bypass.

Next week I will approach the folks at federal lands to see if either option will actually fly with them. If the options are deemed suitable and things can be solidified with Keller, ITD and Union Pacific, I think an open house and public meeting would be a good idea to help determine which option will best meet the needs of our community.

Besides solving the safety and emergency access issues surrounding Willow Bay, these proposals also preserve some latitude as we look to future development north of the bypass between the freeway and the railroad tracks.

A year ago we lost Laurence Funk to a heart attack. This past week we could have lost another person had Chief Wilkinson not parked his patrol car on the tracks blocking trains from crossing as emergency responders saved a life that would have easily been lost had they not gotten there when they did.

Cliché, life is full of choices. Choosing the status quo is neither responsible nor prudent in this case. If you have positive constructive input on this or any other project within the purview of the city, you will always find me available and willing to listen. Unless of course, I happen to be on vacation. But, if I’m not eaten by a bear or drowned, I will be back and my door will be open.

The waters were high from near record snowpack in the western mountains of Wyoming as Al and I made our way through the headwaters of the Bear, Colorado, Snake and Yellowstone. Drowning could have been likely in a few cases had discretion not won out over valor. As with my goal to improve access and safety to Willow Bay, you may recall I had a goal heading into Wyoming. Al and I caught all four species of native cutthroat trout; I caught all of mine, over 50, on a single #14 Parachute Hare’s Ear. However, I broke my chosen rod the second day and came up an inch short of my 14 inch goal on the last of the four species, the Yellowstone Cutthroat. The rod is being fixed and I have caught countless Yellowstone Cuts over 14 inches in the past so I will work on building a bridge to get over my shortcomings for that part of the goal.

I look forward to working with you on the F.L.A.P. grant goal to Willow Bay.

Until next week…

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