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Funding doubts force Cheyenne Connector onto fast track

Pocatello’s Engineering Dept. said the project got a little push to work quicker, with some bad news earlier this year.

“We get this message from Washington, ‘Hey we’ve yanked some of your earmark money’. And we were just panicked,” Pocatello City Enginner Deirdre Castillo said.

With an Obama administration policy of use it or lose it, Pocatello engineers had to figure out a way to get shovels in the ground by spring to save $2.6 million in earmark money.

That’s good news to members of the Pocatello Fire Department, who know the very real need for a quick route from Fifth Avenue to Bannock Highway.

“During the Charlotte Fire we actually had some engines that ended up getting held up at the crossing south of town because the couldn’t use the Cheyenne Crossing,” Pocatello Interim Fire Chief Dave Gates said.

An old bridge on 2nd Avenue is the fastest connection, But its crumbing concrete foundation can’t safely handle the weight of fully loaded fire engines.

Gates said for emergency responders, time saved means lives saved.

“Seconds matter in many cases. Fire grows exponentially every minute it burns, cardiac arrest, and brain damage, all those things are pretty critical for quick response,” Gates said.

Despite the desire for the South Valley Connector, the project has been plagued with problem after problem.

“It seems like every time we turn around there’s something else that we need to do to even break ground on this project,” Castillo said.

The original plan was to take the crossing over the interstate, building an overpass, but the state now says the project must go under the freeway.

That means a whole new design.

“It was a nightmare, it really was. From an engineers standpoint how can you change it this late in the game,” Castillo said.

Even with work starting in the spring, Castillo said there’s no absolute guarantee to get that earmarked money back from the feds.

All told, estimates put the total cost for the South Valley Connector project at about $18 million.

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