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New federal grant could bring an early start to a North Idaho highway project

Cars exiting Idaho Highway 53 in Kootenai County wait for a train.
Courtesy Idaho Department of Transportation
Cars exiting Idaho Highway 53 in Kootenai County wait for a train.

Idaho transportation officials say a new federal grant will eventually make traffic more efficient and safer on Highway 53 in Kootenai County.

The $36 million grant was awarded this week by the Federal Railroad Administration. The goal is to reduce the number of car-train accidents.

“This project has been one the community has wanted for a really long time," said Idaho Department of Transportation spokeswoman Megan Jahns. "It dates back all the way to a study and an effort called ‘Bridging the Valley’ in 2006. That basically said we need to separate vehicle and train traffic from Spokane to Athol. This was one of the priority projects identified from that.”

The project would create a new vehicle bridge and interchange at Pleasant View Road and allow three car-train intersections to be closed.

“This will basically have ramps and carry cars up and over the train traffic so you don’t have to have any stops, you don’t have any delays. You won’t have to listen to those train whistles blow," Jahns said.

She says this project has been on the drawing board for several years, but has been pushed back repeatedly because of the high cost, about $45 million. The most recent estimate for construction is 2028. She says her agency will now calculate whether it can advance the project a year or two.

“Can we combine this with another project we have planned and advance that project as well? So it’s a pretty big question and there’s a lot of data and decisions we need to make to see, but it’s a total possibility that this will affect the timing of the remaining projects on Highway 53," Jahns said.

The construction time is estimated to be about two years.

The grant requires local governments and the private sector to match 20% of the project’s cost. Jahns says her agency, the Post Falls Highway District and Burlington Northern will each contribute to that.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.