Northgate interchange project delayed until at least next summer
Those in the Pocatello-Chubbuck community hoping for a Christmas present in the form of a completed and fully functional Interstate 15 Northgate interchange are in for some disappointment.
While the work that began this past spring to extend Siphon Road in Chubbuck and Olympus Drive in Pocatello to the interstate appears to be going well, the Idaho Transportation Department said last week that construction on its portion of the project — the interchange itself — hasn’t even started and won’t be completed until August 2019 at the earliest.
There will be no Christmas present in the form of the interchange being completed by its December deadline, though ITD says it will save millions of dollars by postponing the project.
The interchange project has already had a groundbreaking last September and a ribbon-cutting this past June but its grand opening has proven elusive.
Once the interchange is completed and connected to Pocatello and Chubbuck via Olympus and Siphon, respectively, local officials say that a wave of commercial and residential development will hit the interchange area the likes of which Southeast Idaho has never seen. Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad has previously said the Northgate project could double the Gate City’s population.
But for that to happen the Interstate 15 Northgate interchange needs to be completed. The interstate access is needed for the industrial parks that are being planned for the interchange area and those industrial parks will create so many jobs that thousands of houses will need to be built in the same area for the workers.
Or at least that’s the plan.
ITD’s portion of the over $25 million project is the interchange itself. ITD spokesman Vince Trimboli said the department is trying to hire a contractor to build the interchange but so far the bids received have all been over what the department wants to pay.
“The Idaho Transportation Department put its bid out in June (to construct the interchange) and when it came back the anticipated costs went over what we expected by about $3 million,” Trimboli said. “The bid came in over so what we did was reject all of those bids, went in and removed some time constraints and made some minor design changes. We will soon readvertise and resubmit the projects for bids.”
The fact ITD wanted the interchange completed by this Christmas was the main reason the lowest bid was still $3 million above the department’s budget for the project, Trimboli added. When ITD soon puts the project out to bid again, he said that time constraint will be removed.
“By the time we put that project out for bid in June it was really difficult for contractors that were already involved with other contracts to get it done so quickly,” Trimboli said. “We took off the time constraints to dramatically reduce the cost.”
In addition to pushing the project back, Trimboli said ITD eliminated some unnecessary street lights and made a few other small engineering changes to attract lower bids from contractors.
“Unfortunately this won’t be done as quickly as everyone wanted,” Trimboli said. “But those partners responsible for building the connecting infrastructure should be done by the time we are ready to construct the actual interchange. With all of the connecting infrastructure completed we should be able to put up the interchange and the entire project will be finished.”
The Northgate project partnership includes the cities of Chubbuck and Pocatello, Bannock County, ITD and two private development groups, the Chubbuck-based Portneuf Development and Utah-based Millennial Development.
After all parties signed the official contract last August, design plans for the actual interchange began immediately and this past spring Chubbuck and the two development groups began extending Siphon Road and Olympus Drive toward Interstate 15.
Much of that work remains right on schedule and the delay in constructing the actual interchange where Siphon and Olympus will connect to Interstate 15 doesn’t seem to be fazing any of those involved in the project.
“We remain totally committed to the partnership and our role in the partnership,” said Buck Swany of Millennial Development. “As you can see we are executing our part of the agreement. We are spending tons of time and money getting everything done when we said we would and we are exactly on schedule.”
The project’s development groups — Portneuf and Millennial — are responsible for extending Olympus Drive to where ITD will build the new interchange.
“We are approximately four to six weeks out from completion,” Swany said. “We have put in the off-site water and sewer. We have installed the road base and curbing and essentially we have finished two-thirds of the road construction project. Our commitment was to be finished in the fall and we have kept our part of the bargain.”
The city of Chubbuck is in charge of extending Siphon Road to where ITD will build the interchange. Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England said he thinks ITD’s delay regarding the interchange itself will be advantageous for Chubbuck because it will remove the pressure on the city to complete the Siphon extension by this Christmas.
“At this point we are on schedule to meet the original time frame,” England said, referring to the Christmas deadline. “But we recognized that with this slow down we were able to have some discussions with our contractors to push a few things back and it might be able to save us some money.”
A huge portion of Chubbuck’s actual workload includes clearing a path through rough terrain to extend Siphon Road and this involves the difficult task moving massive amounts of dirt.
The Northgate project has encountered delays in the past and the most recent setback regarding ITD’s construction of the interchange itself doesn’t seem to be negatively impacting the optimism of the project’s organizers.
“Chubbuck is right on target and executing their part of the commitment,” Swany said. “Our working relationship with the Idaho Transportation Department remains stellar and positive and we appreciate their partnership immensely.”