A unanimous resolution approved by the Idaho Transportation Board on Thursday paved the way for the much-anticipated Siphon Road-Interstate 15 interchange project to come to fruition.
Despite a special meeting on May 31 that uncovered state law that prevented the project’s public and private partners — the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck, Bannock County and the Utah-based Millennial Development — from spearheading the project, Bannock County Commission Chairman Evan Frasure said the board had a major change of heart Thursday.
“They dropped the demand of putting their $5 million in last and will now put their contribution in first,” Frasure said. “They committed the $5 million immediately and are truly stepping up. They are keeping the exact commitment we asked them to take on May 31.”
The overall project will connect parts of north Pocatello and Chubbuck to Interstate 15 near Siphon Road. Under the agreement, the Idaho Transportation Department would administer the construction of the interchange portion of project and the other partners would construct connecting road infrastructure.
Last week, Frasure told members of the Pocatello Rotary Club that having the ITD in control of the interchange’s construction will increase the cost of the $25 million project by at least 35 percent.
“The board is going to take responsibility for any potential cost overruns,” Frasure said. “Any difference in cost they agreed to handle, which is such a change from what they told us at the special meeting.”
The board assuming all extra costs is tremendous, Frasure said, adding that the other partners in the project had no additional funds to contribute and were out of options to acquire additional money.
As part of the agreement, ITD and Millennial Development will share costs of building the interchange itself. The other partners will share the costs of building connecting infrastructure.
“This interchange presents a unique opportunity to work closely with the private sector and other local agencies,” said Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead. “We understand why local residents are excited about this project. We think it will increase mobility and bring greater economic opportunity for the community.”
The agreement calls for the Millennial Development to pay $3.4 million up front and then ITD would contribute $5 million for the construction of the interchange.
“The board recognized that we did everything we could humanly think of,” Frasure said. “After today, the (ITD) board is now my hero.”
With the unanimous agreement, the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck can begin the process of receiving public support for building the connecting roads to the interchange.
“We hope that in the next few months we can get the public approvals that we need to start building the connecting roads this year,” Frasure said. “If that happens, we will be moving dirt long before the snow flies.”
Frasure projects that construction on the connecting roads will begin sometime in September and will continue for the remaining 30 to 60 days of the construction season. Simultaneously, the ITD will begin the process of receiving public comment and putting the construction work out for bid.
Ideally, the interchange construction will begin early spring 2018 and the entire project should be completed by October 2018.
“We now have a true partner in the state of Idaho,” Frasure said. “This is a truly fair public-private partnership and I cannot thank the board enough.”
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad has previously stated that several new large-scale businesses will likely move into industrial parks built along the interstate because of the interchange. The mayor said the new businesses will require many workers — and in the end, Pocatello’s population could double.
The Idaho Legislature in April passed transportation bills that gave the ITD up to $300 million in GARVEE bonds to be used to fund new road projects. Frasure said that process was the first real step toward completing the interchange and touted several members of the legislature, including Sen. Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, for their continued efforts to pass the bill.
“If we hadn’t got the GARVEE funding this would never have happened,” Frasure said. “Without Winder’s support, we would be nowhere and the real hero her locally as far as the legislature goes is Mark Harris, who originally voted against GARVEE.”
After several rounds, Harris eventually changed his vote, along with three other senators who originally voted against the project, which swayed the vote to finally pass with 19 votes for and 16 votes against.
Frasure said that Chubbuck officials are working diligently to secure the remaining land to construct the connector from Siphon Road to the interchange, adding, that the city of Pocatello has signed contracts for the land near Olympus Drive.
Frasure, who first started working on this project as a senator in the early 1990s, said that after working on something for 30 years and to finally see it come about is a remarkable feeling.
“We scored a major victory today,” Frasure said. “And now we will take the first step in completing the largest public-private partnership in the history in Idaho.”