The city of Middleton and the Idaho Transportation Department are clashing over an intersection the city wants with Idaho 44. The disagreement is the latest fallout of a City Council decision to turn Middleton’s back on a planned Idaho 44 bypass that had gone unbuilt for 20 years.
The Transportation Department is not supporting Middleton Mayor Steve Rule’s application for federal funding to cover the cost of a new intersection and stoplight in the growing city in eastern Canyon County.
In his 2019 race for mayor, Rule campaigned on improving Middleton’s roads and infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of homes coming to the area. That’s what he says he is trying to do now, with a plan to straighten Middleton Road and connect it to Idaho 44.
The city on Dec. 7 submitted an application for state and federal funds through the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho without a hoped-for letter of support from the Transportation Department.
Compass, the Treasure Valley’s regional transportation-planning agency, accepts applications each year for funding transportation projects. Cities and counties can apply in two phases, and the association connects them to the best funding sources, federal and non-federal.
If awarded the grant, the city is required to pay $230,531, which is 7.3% of the project cost. The grant would fund $2.9 million, said Becky Crofts, Middleton city administrator, in an email.
Middleton Road dead ends each side of Idaho 44
Currently Middleton Road veers to the left northbound before reaching Idaho 44 and is cut off south and north of the highway. Rule sought federal funds to plan and build an intersection connecting them.
Middleton Road is the primary north/south route across the Boise River into Middleton, Crofts wrote in the city’s grant application. The existing State Highway 44 serves as the primary east and west connection for the city. The two roads provide access for Middleton’s 20,000 people to Nampa, Star, Eagle, Meridian and Boise, Crofts wrote.
Crofts said the city’s application needed a letter of support.
With minutes to spare before Wednesday’s application deadline, Caleb Lakey, administrator for the Idaho Transportation Department’s Region 3, which includes Canyon County, wrote a letter to Compass to acknowledge Middleton’s application, but not supporting it.
“Additional analysis, modeling and planning are needed before design work begins and right-of-way is acquired to ensure that competitive funds are utilized towards the best transportation options,” Lakey wrote.
Rule said the department required Middleton to install a stoplight at a much calmer intersection at Idaho 44 and Hartley Lane. He said the city is working on that intersection.
ITD did not respond to the Idaho Statesman’s request for comment. Lakey’s letter was provided to the Idaho Statesman by the city.
Mayor: State unhappy with city rejection of bypass
Rule suspects the department’s decision not to write a letter of support results from years of controversy that finally came to a head last year with the Idaho 44 bypass.
Idaho 44, known as State Street in Boise, runs from downtown Boise to Interstate 84 in Caldwell. Idaho Transportation has planned a bypass for more than 20 years to help reduce congestion on the current highway, whose speed limit is 25 mph through the city.
The Middleton City Council decided last September to stop reserving land in the city for the bypass because developers were interested in bringing commercial development to the area. Middleton council members did not want to pass up that opportunity. Rule supported the bypass removal.
That decision removed the option for a bypass.
“Recent changes by the city of Middleton in their comprehensive plan have dramatically altered longstanding transportation plans in the region,” Lakey wrote. “(Without) another option for the routing of SH-44 and its projected future traffic loads, like the southern alternate route, additional consideration is warranted on any alterations to the existing alignment.”
Lakey said more work must be done before the Middleton Road improvements should start.
“They told me I had to build the Hartley intersection for safety issues,” Rule said. “But they won’t let me apply for the Middleton Road intersection when there are more cars on that road.”
Rule said his Middleton Road adjustments would help accommodate all the new homes planned in the city north of Idaho 44.
“Straightening that road will give access for traffic going north of Middleton out to Idaho 20/26 and connect them to Nampa and Caldwell,” Rule said.
“We waited 20 years for the bypass,” Crofts said by phone. “How long are we going to have to wait for ITD?”
In the city’s application, Crofts wrote, “most of the traffic on the existing Middleton Road will be re-routed through this new intersection once the road is re-aligned. The new re-aligned Middleton Road (would be) four lanes (versus) the existing two lanes.”
Without the funding, the city would have to cover the cost of the straightening project and stoplight, estimated at more than $7 million.
“That is impossible,” Rule said.