Guest opinion by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho
This time of year on roads throughout Idaho, there it is, lying in wait for an unsuspecting wheel (or entire front end) to swallow, and it comes back every single year with frustrating regularity. In a state where over two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government, we depend upon federal transportation dollars to help fix not only these perilous pavement pillagers, but to ensure the continuation of safe roads that are in good repair.
Idaho plays host to visitors from all over the nation and the world year-round. From Lakes Pend Oreille, Coeur d'Alene, Payette, Bear, Redfish and Cascade in the summer to ski spots like Schweitzer, Silver Mountain, Tamarack, Sun Valley, Pomerelle, Bogus Basin and Brundage in the winter, Idaho roads bear the weight of out-of-state recreation and vacation traffic. Interstates 90, 84, 15 and 86 as well as Highway 95 and others criss-cross the state serving as major national and international commerce routes. These essential interstate supply lines make the movement of goods across our vast nation possible.
Consequently, our nation must assume some degree of responsibility for the task of maintaining these "national" roads. I continue to support the current federal funding formula which provides Idaho and other states with vast federal land holdings their appropriate share of national transportation dollars. For every dollar of the federal tax paid by Idahoans, Idaho receives approximately $1.30 under the Federal Highway Trust Fund. This formula removes what would otherwise be a disparate financial burden on the shoulders of Idaho taxpayers for road maintenance and upkeep.
As with other legislation that has experienced a post-election year jumpstart in Congress, the Transportation Bill is again under consideration. The 108th Congress extended the nation's surface transportation bill, TEA-21, five times. The most recent extension expires in May 2005.
Long-term action on this important legislation is needed and crucial to our transportation infrastructure in Idaho. In addition to roads, federal dollars assist public transportation initiatives in urban and rural areas statewide. Safe Routes to School, railroad crossing improvements, consideration of regional needs in national surface transportation studies, granting states more sovereignty in decisions about publicly-owned intermodal freight transportation projects, and culverts to enable successful fish passage are all programs and initiatives which I have consistently supported.
These programs assist the Idaho Department of Transportation in their efforts to unite communities for safety, health and well-being, economic growth and enjoyment of our state's natural resources.
As I've said in the past, fiscally-conservative decisions are not slash now, ask questions later. Being responsible with federal transportation dollars (approximately 18 cents for every gallon of gas you buy) means cutting wasteful spending but preserving necessary and beneficial expenditures, and, the maintenance of the 60,000 miles of roads in Idaho is both beneficial and absolutely necessary to Idahoans and visitors alike. Like arteries and veins in our bodies, these routes link and nourish all the working parts of our society and communities.
As March ushers in the warmer winds of spring and your thoughts turn to gardens, hiking, spring cleaning and the health of your car's shocks, I will be supporting efforts to ensure that Idaho receives its appropriate and fair allocation of federal highway dollars.