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Hairpin Thrills 

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s far as impediments to progress go, the twisty little highway that runs down the east side of Lake Coeur d'Alene is a beauty.





Truly. Idaho lists Highway 97, which wends its way from Interstate 90 at Wolf Lodge Bay down to the town of Harrison, as a scenic byway and it is among the most popular and heavily promoted in the state, with eagles, osprey and dazzling views of the lake.





The road covers only 36 miles but drivers are advised to allow 90 minutes because of all the slow-speed hairpin turns as the highway hugs the lakeshore.





The same attractions that lure Sunday drivers have created a surge of large, upscale development proposals that would add 2,400 housing units, at least three golf courses and a helipad. Currently there are 1,500 houses and 550 fulltime residents, and Kootenai County finds itself in the middle of another battle between luxury developers and locals who want to preserve at least a shred of the scenery that attracted everyone in the first place.





How much growth is too much growth when there is, as Idaho Transportation Department's Barbara Babic says, "only one main road in and out," given its narrow footprint, switchbacks and hairpins? And can it be widened?





"If the state had enough money to buy the right-of-way to expand the footprint of that road, they could do that. But it would be astronomical," an official at a local highway district says. He asks not to be named since state highways are not his jurisdiction.





The Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization began a corridor study (results expected next summer) with a questionnaire last month and a recent open house. Planners are making peak-hour traffic projections based on the development proposals and gathering accident data. Data can be viewed at the website kmpo.net.





ITD has posted length restrictions on the highway, but those are routinely ignored with no consequence, locals say.





"We've all had to run into the ditch," to escape a big truck crowding both lanes in a tight hairpin, says Bev Twillmann, who has organized Neighbors for Responsible Growth.





Twillmann last month asked county commissioners to consider a moratorium on development permits along Highway 97 until the corridor study is completed. The commissioners refused without discussion, which incensed people throughout the fast-growing county where development issues are keenly watch-dogged.





The commissioners were to attend a town hall meeting in Harrison on April 18, where east-side growth issues were expected to dominate.
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