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U.S. 20 to Yellowstone to get 2 big changes

THORNTON, Idaho (AP) — A highway popular with tourists visiting Yellowstone National Park will get two new interchanges as part of the state's 20-year plan to make roads safer.

Officials with the Idaho Transportation Department have announced the location of two interchanges to be built on U.S. 20 in eastern Idaho. They replace intersections that have led to five serious accidents between 1996 and 2000.

The Thornton interchange will complement the commercial corridor in the area, said Madison County Commissioner Brooke Passey.

"The location was my choice, the one I've been supporting from the very start," he said.

With the decisions, the Transportation Department can move forward with design plans for the interchanges.

"The public's been anxious to get the answers," said Cathy Koon, a Transportation Department spokeswoman.

Koon said a record number of people, more than 200, offered comments on the proposed interchanges. For some, the location could make or break their businesses.

"I'm just glad they're putting (the Thornton Interchange) here," said cafe owner Maryanna Farrer. "If it didn't come off (here), we'd be done."

A group of customers of her cafe, Thornton Merc., traditionally come from Rigby every Thursday. But Farrer wasn't sure the food would be worth an extra 15 miles of driving.

Val Moss, owner of Sheffield House RV park and bed and breakfast, said about 500 travelers pull off the highway to stay at his RV park during the summer.

"(The other location) would have wiped us out entirely," he said. "Ninety percent of our business would be gone."

But Frank Jenkins, co-owner of Thornton Shell, will likely see business drop off as the new interchange will bypass his business by three-quarters of a mile. But he said the department's decision will help most people in the area, and that the majority of those he spoke with wanted the selected location.

The Menan-Lorenzo interchange will connect 700 North and LaBelle Road. Construction is set for 2008. The Thornton interchange will be at 3300 West and 4700 South. A starting date for that project hasn't been set.