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Proposal to widen South Boulevard in Idaho Falls has residents worried

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IDAHO FALLS — Many people living on one of Idaho Falls’ historic roads are not happy with the proposal to widen it.

In 2018 the City of Idaho Falls repainted South Boulevard to add a center turn lane and bike paths on either side and removing on-street parking. In June 2019 a proposed plan to widen a section of South Boulevard was revealed. Now, many locals want the city to get rid of the new paint job and abandon any widening plans.

A petition opposing South Boulevard’s new traffic lines and the city’s plan to widen a section of the road has received more than 3,000 signatures. Signs line the sides of the road imploring the city for wider lanes, a slower speed limit, no street widening and to protect the historic nature of South Boulevard.

“What we’re trying to do is, basically, propose an alternative to the city’s striping (painting lines on the road) and widening plan,” Rebecca Long Pyper told EastIdahoNews.com.

Pyper is a homeowner on South Boulevard, author of the Boulevard West blog and one of the people spearheading the opposition to the city’s street-widening proposal.

“I’ve knocked on the door of every single house on South Boulevard. I have yet to talk to a resident who is in favor of this plan,” Pyper said.

The plan

In 2016 the Bonneville Metropolitan Planning Organization released the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan. This plan identifies current and future problems with roads throughout Idaho Falls and Ammon. It also recommends possible solutions to those problems. Among the roads it identifies is South Boulevard.

In 2018 the city completed two of the recommended changes to South Boulevard by adding a roundabout at the intersection of Elm Street and South Boulevard and adding a center turn lane and bike paths.

Idaho Falls Public Works Director Chris Fredericksen said the city has wanted to make the facilities such as the Idaho Falls Zoo, the Wes Deist Aquatic Center and Tautphaus Park more accessible.

“From Northgate Mile south to Sunnyside, we said, ‘If we institute a three-lane facility on this particular stretch, it would be a consistent corridor to accommodate traffic and make better use of bike lanes along that stretch,'” Fredericksen said.

The roundabout and new paint job were not the only things the plan recommended for South Boulevard.

During a public meeting on June 5, the effectiveness of the new lane configuration and the plan to eventually widen South Boulevard between 18th and 21st streets was brought up.

Fredericksen said that part of the plan is at least five years away.

“That’s a project that’s down the road quite a ways, obviously. I think that’s one issue I think that there’s some confusion about, that there’s some imminent decision that’s going to be made on this particular project, and that’s just not the case,” Fredericksen said.

Fredericksen said the city hopes to fix some of the traffic buildup that happens in the southbound lane at the intersection of South Boulevard and 17th Street.

If the city goes forward with the widening plan, it will remove 10 feet from the easement on the west side of South Boulevard. That would reduce the easement down to four feet, removing many trees. However, it would allow for a second southbound lane that would reduce congestion at the South Boulevard 17th street intersection.

Luis Jara and his wife are visiting Idaho Falls from Chile and staying at a home on South Boulevard. He said he loves seeing all the trees in Idaho Falls.

“They should call it the City of Trees,” Jara said.

He said he believes the city should protect the trees on South Boulevard.

History and concerns

“I think that we need to rethink the heritage that we’re losing — the history that we’re losing,” Bonneville County Heritage Association President Ann Rydalch said.

Pyper said there isn’t another street like South Boulevard in Idaho Falls.

“It basically tells the story of Idaho Falls. You can actually go down the road and see the style of houses changing. It tells a little bit about the history of the town,” Pyper said.

Pyper said she believes widening that one section of South Boulevard is a slippery slope to eventually widening the entire road.

But widening the street isn’t the only thing locals are concerned about.

“The bike lane is so small. I used to run there all the time. I’ve almost been hit five times. I’ve got to quit running there because it’s so narrow,” Kelley Deist said.

Deist said he has lived on or near South Boulevard all his life.

“This is one of the prettiest streets in the town, and now they’re making it one of the worst,” Deist said.

You can voice any concerns you may have on the plans for South Boulevard at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Maeck Education Center at the Idaho Falls Zoo.

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