Ribbon cutting for new Siphon interchange

Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad talks to a crowd about how groups came together to help create a new Interstate 15 interchange during the ribbon-cutting for the interchange on Friday morning. Todd Hubbard, left, with hands up, is agreeing with Blad.

Leaders who spoke during a Friday morning ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new Interstate 15 interchange touted the $31 million project as a prime example of what can be accomplished when entities cooperate.

The Northgate interchange opened to the public a few hours after the ceremony concluded, with Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England and members of the Bannock County Commission all driving their cars across the bridge as the official first users. The interchange is located north of both the Pocatello Creek Road exit and I-15’s “flying Y” with Interstate 86.

The interchange was first added to the state’s wish list of projects in 1994. Nonetheless, it wasn’t originally scheduled for construction for another 15 years. Officials at the ceremony recounted how a unique public-private partnership pushed the timeline about a decade and a half ahead, thereby priming open fields in the northeast corner of Pocatello and in adjacent Chubbuck for growth.

The partnership included private developers with Millennial Development, Pocatello Development Authority, Idaho Transportation Department, Bannock County and the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck.

Commissioner Steve Brown described the project as a “rare example of what can be accomplished when there’s a common goal and a greater purpose for everyone.”

ITD District Engineer Todd Hubbard said the project represents the largest public-private partnership his agency has been involved in completing.

“I’m excited to see the growth and the impacts that this interchange will have within this community,” Hubbard said.

Millennial Development, which is building the Northgate multi-use development in the vicinity of the interchange, agreed to pay between $5 million and $6 million to construct a connecting roadway on the Pocatello side.

The city of Chubbuck contributed $10 million to build the Chubbuck-side connector: Chubbuck has built a connector from the interchange to Yellowstone Highway, called New Day Parkway.

Rights-of-way also had to be acquired.

The contract for the interchange alone was $13.1 million — with the city of Pocatello, PDA and Bannock County sharing $3.4 million of the cost and Idaho Transportation Department covering the remainder.

“This was slated for 2035 at the very earliest,” said Buck Swaney, of Millennial Development. “What we’ve purchased is 15 years of a head start for the Portneuf Valley, and for the first time in a long time, we’re ahead.”

Swaney said the interchange is designed to handle 25,000 cars per day — or nine million vehicle trips per year — which is the interchange’s projected volume in 20 years.

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, recounted how a bill passed in 2017 freed up money to move the project to the top of the priority list. He believes the story of how the bridge was built offers a model for future Idaho infrastructure projects.

“In Idaho, we’re going to have to be creative on these bigger transportation projects,” Bedke said. “These public-private partnerships are the answer to a lot of our transportation infrastructure problems we face.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, read a letter he’d written for the occasion: “I commend you for your public-private collaboration. As you have shown, considerable achievements can be realized when varied interests come to the table to work through issues and make progress.”

Blad thanked his city staff and all of the partners who were involved and he singled out the investment PDA made in the interchange, calling it “exactly what development authorities are for.”

“It will definitely help our community,” Blad said. “I’m excited about where we are.”

England said many Chubbuck residents have been driving south to access the existing Interstate 86 interchange in order to tie into northbound lanes of I-15. The new interchange will relieve congestion by enabling motorists to tie directly into I-15 when they’re making trips north. England said it will also facilitate growth in at least four residential developments planned in Chubbuck.

“We’re going to see some wonderful, wonderful things happening in the next dozen years in this area,” England said. “We’re better together. If we work together, there will be successes.”