Digging Into Idaho Transportation Projects

Jan 9, 2017

Idaho Governor Butch Otter will give his annual State of the State address today  to a joint session of the legislature. The governor will talk about his highest stated priority, improving public schools. One thing he said he probably won’t talk about much today, but about which he’s concerned, is finding a way to dig farther into the backlog of transportation maintenance projects. 

Two years ago the governor signed into law a transportation funding package that was to raise more than $90 million to build and rebuild bridges, roads and other parts of Idaho’s transportation system. That package included a seven-cent-a-gallon increase in the state gas tax and higher state vehicle registration fees. It also included a provision that allows half of the state’s budget surplus to be transferred to transportation projects. That’s a two-year arrangement.

It’s still not enough, said Governor Otter. He told reporters during a Friday legislative forum that only about a third of the needs will be covered by that funding package.

“I still think we’re going to have to spend some time collaborating and trying to figure out how we can get a good financial stable income for our highways,” Otter said. 

Perhaps it will help that some lawmakers have their eyes on individual road projects they believe are worthy of state attention. Senator Shawn Keough has adopted a stretch of Highway 95 north of Sandpoint that she said is particularly dangerous. The highway crosses McArthur Lake at that point.

“If you’re driving north, you go down and then you go around a curve and then back up and in the winter, it gets very icy and it’s a wildlife corridor so there’s wildlife on the hill as well,” Keough said.

She said even though the speed limit there is 45 mph, with flashing lights to reinforce that, drivers often approach it too fast. She says people have died from accidents there so she’ll be pushing to find the resources to straighten out that section of the highway.

But it’s not clear yet whether legislators have the appetite to again address transportation funding in a year when finding more money for education and health care for low income residents will get much of the attention.

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