MIDDLETON — The Idaho Transportation Department met with six Middleton landowners Thursday to go over details of the proposed location of a future Middleton bypass to ease traffic on Idaho State Highway 44.
The meeting gave the landowners a chance to weigh in on the location as a conceptual plan for the bypass goes through an environmental analysis as part of the National Environmental Policy Act review process, ITD spokesman Jake Melder said.
During Middleton’s mayoral and city council elections, traffic was a widely covered topic. Recently elected Mayor Steve Rule and Councilman Tim O’Meara both ran on platforms of reducing the traffic on Idaho 44 in Middleton.
In Middleton, Idaho 44 becomes a two-lane road as it goes through downtown. The proposed bypass would go around the city to reduce traffic through downtown. The bypass is tentatively planned to be built south of the city as part of the ITD’s Highway 44 expansion project, though the bypass remains unfunded.
East-west Idaho 44 currently serves commuters from Boise to Caldwell, but also local travelers trying to go shopping in downtown Middleton. There are also schools and parks along Idaho 44, so traffic backs up dramatically during busy times, according to residents and elected officials.
In December, Rule told the Idaho Press he has been talking to the landowners who own property along the planned bypass south of downtown, from Canyon Lane to Duff Lane, about ideal locations for the bypass.
He said he is planning on continuing to work with both ITD and landowners to specify an exact location for the bypass.
In a candidate survey that O’Meara filled out, he said one of his priorities is “continuing to convince ITD that they need to complete the bypass route around Middleton to ease traffic in the core of our city.”
Rule said he believes the plan for the bypass is a good one, but said it could be years until the project is even started.
The entire Idaho 44 expansion includes a 16-mile section of the highway from Eagle Road west to where the highway meets Interstate 84 in Caldwell.
The parts of the expansion that are currently funded are the design and construction from Linder Road to Idaho State Highway 16 and Idaho 16 to Star Road.
From Linder to Idaho 16, ITD plans to widen the road from two to four lanes and install three continuous-flow intersections — a design meant to increase safety and mobility — at Linder, Palmer Lane and Star Road. ITD officials said they’ll begin the widening project in 2023. The widening is expected to cost $8.5 million and will receive federal funding.
In 2024, ITD plans to continue the widening from Idaho 16 to Star Road, which is expected to cost $6.5 million and also will receive federal funding.
There is no date on the horizon for work on the bypass to begin, Melder said.
“Unless funding changes, there is no timeline on when the alternate route will be constructed,” he said by email.
“This is all about growth,” Melder said. “Getting the environmental analysis is important to mitigate the impact of growth on the transportation network.”
Rule also ran on a platform of prioritizing commercial businesses in downtown Middleton. He said he isn’t worried that the eventual bypass will negatively impact those businesses.
“Ridley’s is packed all of the time,” said Rule, referring to the grocery store on Main Street in Middleton. “There are plenty of purchasers in Middleton, we just have to stop them from going to Nampa and Caldwell and even Star, for that matter.”
Rule said commercial businesses will help keep Middleton shoppers in Middleton.
“I am not worried because I see our population increasing by 4,000 to 5,000 people in the next several years,” he said. “I believe that the growth of Middleton is going to make up for any issues of taking (shoppers) away.”