By Sen. Larry Craig
Did you know that it takes less time to drive from Coeur d’Alene
to Seattle than it does to drive from Coeur d’Alene to Boise?
Here’s another fact that many in North Idaho know quite well.
The best route from North Idaho to the capital city goes through Washington
and Oregon, not Idaho. Sure, the drive down U.S. 95 is more scenic.
It’s also a lot more dangerous.
It seems that every Idahoan has a tale of some harrowing experience
on an Idaho highway, whether the experience happened on one of the winding
stretches of U.S. 95, Idaho 55 along the Payette River, or on the congested
lanes of U.S. 20, north of St. Anthony. Some would argue that bad roads
have become a signature part of life in our state, one of the flaws
that we accept as a price for all the things we love about living here.
With the U.S. Senate’s approval of H.R. 3, (reauthorization of
the federal surface transportation bill), we are one step closer to
changing that. And if the House-Senate conference leaves the Senate
version mostly intact, 2005 may well go down in history as the year
in which Idaho turned a corner with respect to its highway infrastructure.
In addition to H.R. 3, Gov. Kempthorne showed a great deal of leadership
earlier this year in identifying new opportunities to responsibly fund
highway construction projects and guiding his proposal through the Idaho
Legislature. These two factors will combine to change transportation
throughout the state.
I believe the Governor’s GARVEE bonding authority will be a great
way to accelerate high-priority road building and improvement projects
across the state, while keeping construction costs down. At the same
time, the state won’t have to break the bank to carry out 30 years’
worth of projects in just ten.
All this comes at a time when Idaho is growing very rapidly, both in
terms of economy and population. Growth presents challenges, as we are
learning. Our neighbors to the west, in Oregon and Washington, provide
important lessons. The major population centers in those two states,
Portland and the cities around the Puget Sound, have not been keeping
up with the transportation needs of these growing metropolitan areas,
and the gridlock is beginning to affect their economies in very negative
Highways are critical to moving people and products all across our state.
When those people and products spend time in congested traffic, productivity
drops. So does fuel efficiency and environmental integrity. But the
cost goes far beyond dollars and cents. Overcrowded highways and winding,
narrow roads can be dangerous, and, as too many Idahoans know, deadly.
That is why I supported the Highway bill. This legislation contains
a formula for distributing federal highway dollars among the 50 states,
and it treats those states with low-population densities fairly. Idaho
will see a solid increase in highway dollars over the life of the bill.
These federal highway dollars are exactly what the governor was talking
about when he pitched the GARVEE bond proposal to the Legislature.
Sen. Crapo and I also succeeded in amending the Highway bill to designate
U.S. 95 a high-priority, multi-state corridor. This designation makes
U.S. 95 eligible for additional funds in the future. Idahoans who have
traveled this route know how much improvements are needed, and I have
continuously worked over the years to make it a better road.
H.R. 3 accomplishes these benefits. I could not support the late amendments
which increased the total cost of the legislation while we continue
to get our deficit under control, but I felt the positive aspects of
the overall bill for Idaho warranted my support.
Idaho is a large state. There are vast distances to cover when traveling
by car or hauling freight, and they aren’t “easy drives.”
However, because of the highway bill and GARVEE bonding, some routes
will soon be safer and easier, and Idahoans will soon be closer together.
I’ll keep working to improve our roads, so that the best way to
travel in Idaho doesn’t mean driving through other states.