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Thornton overpass project plans move forward

For years now, there’s been talk about building an overpass at the Thornton intersection on Highway 20.

Now, the Idaho Transportation Department is one step closer to making the decade-old dream a reality after the ITD Board agreed to expedite nearly $200 million worth of highway construction projects across the state.

Just when folks started to believe the Thornton Interchange project had no future, the ITD Board voted otherwise.

“We plan years in advance on major projects,” said Bruce King, ITD spokesman. “There’s a lot of engineering involved and land acquisitions and so forth, so we work well ahead of time on a project this size.”

King said in 2017, the access road onto Highway 20 would most likely be closed and the overpass would be built about two miles north of the access point drivers use now.

“Maybe some people won’t have direct access to the highway like they did before, but when you weigh that against the advantages of safety and improved safety, it’s just a better situation for all concerned,” said King.

Many are wondering what will happen to businesses in the area — particularly Yellowstone Bear World. With about 95 percent of the park-goers not being from the southeast Idaho area, accessibility is a concern.

“They’ve (visitors) got to be able to get off the interstate easily and get back on it, without any inconvenience to their trip or plans,” said Courtney Ferguson, operations manager for Yellowstone Bear World. “If they have to backtrack too far, you stand a high risk of losing those visitors to our state.”

Park officials said accessibility is so important in fact, that the park lost about 25 percent of visitors during the Menan overpass construction last year. If park-goers were to pass Yellowstone Bear World, they would have to backtrack on country roads.

“Without the correct placement of the overpass, Yellowstone Bear World stands a very good chance of not existing,” said Ferguson.

The Thornton overpass project is one of two in Eastern Idaho. The other project will add a turn lane on Idaho 39 at Thomas Lane just west of Blackfoot.

That $500,000 project will begin in 2014.

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