By Chuck Winder
I am chairman of the descendant of that idea – the seven-member citizen Idaho Transportation Board. And I’m writing to assure you that today’s board serves with the same integrity and character that sustained this system for more than half a century.
Why do I need to make these assurances? You may have seen some of Idaho’s media carelessly and incorrectly use words like favorites, preferential treatment and politically motivated to describe how the Idaho Transportation Board selected a consultant to manage the state’s new highway bonding program.
These news accounts are wrong. The Idaho Transportation Board acted without political influence and within its authority in making this decision.
From its inception, Governor Kempthorne’s $1.6
billion Connecting Idaho initiative delegated management and decision-making
responsibilities to the transportation board.
It is clear the board has the final decision-making authority for the Idaho Transportation Department. Board members consider the professional advice of the transportation department staff, the values of the communities and citizens they represent, input from elected officials and their own professional experiences and backgrounds when making decisions.
It is through this process that Idahoans have entrusted the transportation board for more than 50 years to make the decisions in the best interest of the state. The process has worked and continues to work extremely well.
The real question is whether the department and the Idaho Transportation Board followed correct procedures in the selection of a consultant to manage the visionary plan. The Federal Highway Administration asked the department to review whether it met all federal guidelines.
After learning about the federal agency’s concerns, the transportation board voted to put the selection process on hold and stopped all contract negotiations. The department is working to address the Federal Highway Administration’s questions and ensure we fully comply with federal procedures.
But what does this mean to Connecting Idaho?
The highway projects proposed for the initial stages of Connecting Idaho are already being designed or are ready for construction. What they need is funding – funding the bonds will provide.
Many other steps, such as selecting a bonding firm, have been completed.
The role of the consultant/program manager is to develop a plan for projects where little or no work has been done – to condense a process that often can take five or more years to complete into three years or less.
Idaho is ready to take the next step in Connecting Idaho. A step that is necessary to ensure that Idaho’s transportation system continues to be safe, efficient and capable of meeting our needs into the 21 st century. That remains the highest priority of the transportation board.