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Business fears planned Hwy 20 project will cost them

By Luke Jones
Published On: Jul 31 2014 07:58:00 PM CDT

Starting in 2016, the state plans to move ahead with the Thornton overpass project on Highway 20. But one business said this could take a big chunk out of its profits. Luke Jones reports.

MADISON COUNTY, Idaho -

A major highway expansion project has some in Madison County upset.

Starting in 2016, the state plans to move ahead with the Thornton overpass project on Highway 20. But one business said this could take a big chunk out of its profits.

As part of the project, the Idaho Transportation Department plans to close all at-grade access roads between the Snake River and Rexburg, including the one that leads to Yellowstone Bear World.

"That's exactly why we built this attraction at this location was based on that access and that visibility of the highway,” said Courtney Ferguson, a spokesman for Bear World.

Ferguson said if the road is shut down, it would make it harder for visitors to access the wildlife attraction.

"Going north they would pass the attraction by almost two miles, and then they would have backtrack through the county road system to get back through here,” said Ferguson.

He said Bear World stands to lose between 40 to 50 percent of its revenue if the project moves forward.

A former Shell gas station near the future entrance ramp of the Thornton overpass has already closed.

"We have met for years with concerned landowners and other concerned citizens about the interchange and its impacts and we'll continue to do so,” said Bruce King, spokesman for ITD.

But even while support for keeping these access roads grows, King is adamant that they need to go.

"Having conflict points onto a busy federal route is dangerous,” said King.

But some say that danger is more fantasy than reality.

"That access here at Bear World hasn't seen any accidents,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson said he would like for the Bear World access road to remain open until they can come up with another access solution such as building a second overpass leading into Bear World.

King said ITD's budget is already stretched and that a second overpass isn't likely. The Thornton overpass will cost a projected $14 million.

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