No North, No South

The Road That Joined the Halves

By Marylyn Cork

I first heard about the history of the old North and South Highway from my father. It seemed to fascinate him a little, although he didn’t become an Idahoan until many years after the fact. When it was essentially completed and open to traffic in 1924, the road joined the two halves of our state geographically for the first time since statehood thirty-four years earlier.

We know this highway today as U.S. 95, truly a marvel of engineering, construction, and derring-do. Before it, there was no way to drive from one end of Idaho to the other except through the neighboring states of Washington and Oregon on one side or Montana on the other. This must have been especially inconvenient and annoying for northerners, since the state was governed from the south.

The geography to subdue was intimidating. When the long-envisioned road crossed the southern divide at an elevation of forty-one-hundred feet and entered the canyon of the Little Salmon, engineers and construction crews encountered solid rock from seventy-five to a hundred feet high blocking the way. Concrete retaining walls were needed to hold the fills along the river. The road began to lift out of the canyon at White Bird Creek and rose about eleven miles in a series of twenty-two switchbacks with a maximum grade of five percent.

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