Many fear Inkom I-15 overpass primed for 'catastrophic failure' before expected 2025 replacement - East Idaho News

Many fear Inkom I-15 overpass primed for ‘catastrophic failure’ before expected 2025 replacement

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Residents of Inkom meet to discuss a bridge many are concerned will not last until its planned replacement date. | Kalama Hines,

INKOM — Some 25 Inkom residents gathered at the Inkom Community Bible Church Wednesday night to discuss a bridge.

The bridge in question is an Interstate-15 overpass near town that many residents fear could be doomed for “catastrophic failure” in the very near future.

A quick glance at the bridge is enough to immediately recognize rusted rebar, crumbling concrete and shoddy patching.

Inkom bridge
Courtesy Luana Lish

According to an Idaho Transportation Department Engineer Manager Eric Staats, the bridge was recognized as having a “high” need for replacement in 2017.

In 2018, ITD switched the bridge from the standard biannual inspection plan to a yearly inspection plan. Around that same time, ITD installed steel beams as a support system for the concrete girders.

Many residents, including Luana Lish who organized the meeting, believe ITD has “kicked the can down the road” long enough when it comes to replacing the “failing bridge.”

“The can has been kicked down the road so many times that they’re not kicking the can anymore, they’re kicking concrete,” Lish said.

Staats was present at the meeting, explaining ITD’s plan for the bridge to the town’s concerned citizens.

As he explained, federal funding for the replacement of six structures — both directions of three different bridges in town — has been approved for 2025.

Asked if there was any possibility the work could be done sooner than that, Staats said there is a plan to use state monies for the work, then replace those funds with federal money in 2025. However, funding is not the only issue — planning and design has still not been completed for the work.

Staats stood before the Inkom residents for more than an hour, fielding questions — the majority of which had to do with the department’s plans.

Residents asked why it has taken so long to move toward replacing the bridge; they questioned why the “Flying Y” reconstruction wasn’t delayed until after the bridge was replaced; and they asked if there was any contingency plan should the condition of the bridge worsen.

Residents also took the opportunity to raise other concerns.

One woman asked if it was at all possible for the speed limit on I-15 through Inkom to be lowered from 80 mph to 65 mph, like it is through Pocatello. Another resident asked Staats if ITD could add new signage to help visitors find their way back to the I-15 onramp. A third resident addressed the potholes that have developed on the interstate near Inkom, raising concerns regarding damaged vehicles.

“Our little town is really close, and any kind of problem affects us all,” Lish told after the meeting. “This is a huge problem, and this doesn’t just affect Inkom, this affects all of southeastern Idaho and anyone who uses the I-15 corridor.”

Staats assured the Inkom residents he would take their concerns to ITD management.

Inkom bridge
Courtesy Luana Lish

“I totally understand the scheduling dilemma that the Idaho Transportation Department has,” Inkom Mayor Max Shaffer told “But I hope that they understand our concern, too, and that they will move us up if they can.”

If ITD is able to move the work up, Staats said the work would not begin until, at the earliest, 2024.

When it does happen, he said, there will be interstate shutdowns for around two years.

Staats believes the plan is for the work to be done on the southbound lanes first, meaning all southbound traffic through the Inkom pass will be diverted to the northbound lanes. When that portion of the work is completed, he said, the northbound lanes will be shut down will all traffic being diverted to the southbound lanes.

“Our structural engineers will evaluate the northbound structure, to make sure there aren’t temporary improvements that need to happen to that structure — or any of these structures — in order to have the two-way traffic on it,” Staats said.

Following the meeting, Lish said she appreciated the job Staats did, speaking openly with the residents and allowing them to vent their frustrations. However, she added, she is concerned the inspections — as poor as they’ve shown the bridge’s condition to be — have found the extent of the problems.