Projects like that save no lives and do nothing to improve
the efficiency of our corridors of commerce. Whats more,
they contribute to an overall spending increase of nearly
32 percent, and almost $27 billion more than President Bush
requested. Those are taxpayer dollars, paid every time you
put gas in your car to get to work or pick up your kids at
Those of us in Congress have an obligation to invest your
tax money wisely. Improvements to U.S. 95 are the best kind
of investment of user fees because thats what
fuel taxes are that we can make. But environmental
extremists turning common sense on its ear and bureaucrats
justifiably worried about getting sued have made such projects
more about paperwork and lawsuits than asphalt and concrete.
The Idaho Transportation Department says planning and permitting
for major projects, before actual construction even begins,
now averages 62 to 74 months. Thats five or six years.
So under current conditions you can expect to see work get
under way in 2010 on a project approved today. Meanwhile,
costs increase, jobs arent created, highways remain
unsafe and prople keep dying.
Eight Idaho projects worth $26 million remain on hold nearly
six years after the last highway bill was approved. As bad
as that is, it represents a big improvement since I took office
in 2001, when 24 projects with estimated construction costs
totaling $73 million were being delayed. The Idaho Transportation
Departments hard work and new partnerships with federal
agencies since President Bush took office have helped.
However, streamling provisions still are needed to protect
the environment and maintain public participation while cutting
through the red tape and speeding up the process. Unfortunately,
part of the House bill that was intended to accomplish that
goal might actually have penalized states that have been most
progressive in implementing efficient environmental review
processes. We must do better.
We can have safer roads and a clean environment. We can have
good jobs and healthy wildlife. And we can do something about
the time-consuming and costly processes that serve only to
erode public confidence and stifle progress.
But the answer is not wasting your money on museums, music
centers and lawyers. We must see to it that local priorities
are addressed as quickly as possible, and that the tax dollars
of Idaho drivers go toward making the highways they travel
safer and more efficient.