A public hearing took place July 8 regarding Jefferson County taking over State Highway 48 from the Idaho Transportation Department.
Cities along the highway include Rigby, Menan, Roberts, Lewisville and Ririe. According to emails sent by Megan Stark with the ITD Office of Communication, part of the department’s reasoning for transferring the highway to the county is “ITD has received more and more requests for access permits along SH-48. With current zoning along the highway, several properties will have limited access as they develop.”
According to Stark, another reason is there are a number of schools along the highway route and there are concerns about the safety of children, especially in cases where the highway is used as a detour for Interstate 15. There are four schools along the route, as well as a middle school and high school.
Planned improvements to the highway would cost about $9.7 million over the next five years, according to a document retrieved from Jefferson County. According to the document, other improvements not yet planned are preservation, estimated to cost about $6.4 million, partial depth restoration, estimated at $11.6 million, and reconstruction, estimated at $23.3 million. If the county were to take over the highway, it would be tasked with maintaining the roads and be able to make decisions about them.
According to Stark, the department offered to possibly pay the county either $9.5 million or to build an interchange in Rigby if the county takes over the highway. Hancock said ITD representatives said in meetings this year the interchange is estimated to cost more than $20 million.
The Idaho Transportation Department initially proposed the idea to county commissioners in 2018. Commissioner Scott Hancock said people he heard from had generally been against the county taking over the highway.
ITD again met with commissioners this year on Jan. 28 and May 28 in closed meetings to further discuss the possibility of the county taking over the highway. These meetings violated open meeting laws, which do allow for closed meetings, or executive sessions, for “acquisition of real property,” though not in cases where the property is owned by a public agency. A copy of the Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual can be found at https://www.ag.idaho.gov/content/uploads/2018/04/OpenMeeting.pdf.
Since ITD is a public agency and owns the highway, the meetings would have needed to be held in open session. The Jefferson Star informed the commissioners and county attorney of these violations toward the end of June after becoming aware of them. The commissioners took curative action June 24 on the May 28 meeting and July 1 on the Jan. 28 meeting.
County attorney Weston Davis said June 24 — regarding the closed May meeting — that there had been no calculated reason for going into executive session, and said it had been an oversight.
When taking curative action, Hancock said that in the meetings between the commissioners and ITD, ITD representatives offered cash and the possibility of an interchange if the county took over the highway. He said commissioners also informed ITD a public hearing would need to be scheduled.
The Jefferson Star will continue to report on this story as it develops.