Officials seek to improve trade corridors

Conference-goers draft highway resolutions to submit to legislatures

With increased numbers of tourists and commercial goods crossing the Canadian border, the time’s right to begin improvements on U.S. Highway 95, say leaders across the Pacific Northwest.
Legislators and business leaders from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region are holding a conference at Best Western Cavanaugh’s Templin’s Resort.

Though the meetings will cover a wide array of topics, an initiative to focus on the highways between Canada and the United States was a key topic Monday.
A commission called the Inland Corridors Coalition met all day to pass several resolutions that involve federal highways linking the two countries – Highway 97, Highway 395 and Highway 95.

The corridor initiative was created to coordinate money brought in from private and public sources to pay for improvements. In addition, improvements made in the Inland Northwest will help reduce traffic pressure on Interstate 5 west of the Cascade Mountains, officials said.

The three resolutions, endorsed by PNWER members, will be submitted to legislatures in each state and province later this year.

Besides minor improvements on Highway 95, the basic layout of the route has not changed since 1936, said John Goedde, past president of Coeur D’Alene’s Chamber of Commerce and a Republican candidate for state senate.

“The most-often comment I get is how dangerous [Highway 95] is,” Goedde said. “And it’s not only local folks, it’s people like students of the University of Idaho and their parents.”

Though the collaboration of different states and countries is a positive step, Goedde said, it’s just the beginning of an effort to significantly improve Highway 95, making it safer.

Traffic at the U.S.-Canadian border at Eastport, Idaho, has doubled in the past 10 years, Goedde said. It’s the 16th busiest port of 130 ports between the two countries.

The route is a major highway for trade between Canada and Washington – a state that gets 25 percent of Canada’s total exports, said Lorne Holowachuk, of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways.

Canada imports $820 million worth of goods each year through Highway 95, said Holowachuk.

Highway 95 is designated as a corridor of high priority because of its increased trade and tourism traffic. Recently, $100,000 was allocated to study border traffic improvements at Eastport.

The grant, announced on June 9, will pay for a corridor plan, environmental studies and design work.

In 1999, the highway received $1.2 million in grant money for similar planning work.

More federal money formt he Naitonal Corridor Planning and Development and the Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program will help complete planning and development for the future of highway improvements, said Ron Kerr, senior planner from the Idaho Transportation Department.

Like its counterpart in Canada, Highway 95 should have a 6-foot shoulder on each side, Kerr said.

According to Kerr, $45 million dedicated for highway construction from these federal funds “would be a dream.”