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Politics & Government

How Idaho Plans To Spend $95 Million In New Revenue On Roads

Idaho Transportation Department
Idaho Transportation Department Director says Idaho's roads and bridges are crumbling. Here's part of State Highway 41.

Last week, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) pushed 27 road and bridge projects to the top of their “fix it” list. The projects, from Nampa to Pocatello, are just a fraction of the outstanding road issues facing the Department. ITD says the projects will cost $46.8 million. 

The money comes from $95 million in new gas taxes and registration fees approved by the Idaho Legislature this spring.

ITD plans to spend some of its new money to preserve and restore the 27 bridges and roadways deemed most needy. But Director Brian Ness says eventually, ITD will need a total of $262 million to keep up with road and bridge repair.

“I think that for every year that we don’t have the $262 million of additional revenue, our system continues to decline,” says Ness. “Now with $95 million, we’ve slowed that decline a little bit.”

Ness, who’s been director for five years, says he hasn’t heard any negative comments about the new taxes.

“If anything, I’ve heard, 'Why didn’t they get closer to the $262 million?' I’ve not heard anybody push back to say we don’t want to pay more, we shouldn’t pay more.”

The projects include bridge and pavement restoration and preservation on Interstate 84, as well as Highways 93 and 95.

The projects were chosen from ITD’s five-year construction plan. Ness says his department of 1,724 employees is always working five years ahead when it comes to projects. Projects are picked based on things like road usage, whether businesses depend on the roadway, the safety record of the roadway, and the age of the road.

Credit Idaho Transportation Department
U.S. Highway 26 is in need of some TLC.

“Bridges are designed to last about 40 to 60 years," says Ness. "So a lot of those bridges were built in the interstate construction era of the 1960s. So we’re getting to the point where those bridges are in need of replacements.”

Paying for construction projects now saves money in the future.

“We need $262 million today, to keep the existing infrastructure in the condition that it’s in right now. The longer we wait to bridge that gap, the more expensive it is to fix the system,” says Ness.

He says fixing a road that’s in good condition to keep extending the life of that payment costs about $1.

“But as that road transitions into fair and poor condition, that $1 becomes $6 to $14,” says Ness. “So $262 million today is equivalent – if you let the system continue to decline to where it’s all poor – to $3.6 billion a year. People I talk to understand that.”

Ness says he’ll keep working to convince lawmakers and drivers that $262 million is needed.

“I would say next year isn’t the right time to look at it. Let’s wait a couple of years, get a full construction season under our belt, and then tackle this issue again in the 2017 session.”

The 27 new projects will use up about half of ITD’s new cash flow. Ness says more projects will come online in the new fiscal year.

Credit Idaho Transportation Department
ITD Director Brian Ness says roads and bridges in Idaho aging. Here U.S. 95 north of Moscow.

Ness says this year’s funding is good news for the users of the transportation system.

“We can start to significantly improve the safety of our highway system. I think we can preserve the system and keep it in the condition that it’s in.”

He says anything the state can do to reduce bottlenecks on the transportation system is good for business and will attract new businesses, creating jobs.

“It keeps snowballing from there; I think transportation is the real key to sustaining the economic recovery that’s already started here in Idaho.”

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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