When asked to identify Idaho transportation projects that will be needed over the next three decades, state, county and city agencies responded by compiling an extensive list. Bottom line – $20 billion.
An even bigger challenge confronting the Forum on Transportation Investment – an independent group of civic and political leaders and transportation officials – is identifying a source to pay for those much-needed projects. FTI leaders presented 12 conclusions and 14 recommendations during the first of six statewide meetings Wednesday in Lewiston.
The FTI report, delivered by chairman Jim Kempton and consultant Dwight Bower, coincided with the Idaho Transportation Board meeting. More than 40 citizens, some of whom are involved in providing transportation services, turned out for the two-hour meeting.
Bower, former director of the Idaho Transportation Department, challenged participants to consider both traditional (increased gas taxes and registration and license fees) as well as nontraditional sources, such as impact fees on new development, indexing fuel taxes to total sales rather than a fixed rate per gallon, and possibly a tax based on vehicle miles traveled.
The last increase in state fuel tax came in 1996, boosting the tax to 25 cents per gallon. Idaho has survived the past 10 years primarily on increased federal revenue, a shift that might not be sustainable in the future, Bower said.
District 2 board member Bruce Sweeney delivered the most poignant message at the FTI meeting: If funding doesn’t increase, and the backlog of necessary improvements to the surface transportation system continues to grow, which highways should ITD stop maintaining?
“If you think we can get along with what we have now … then think of which roads we shouldn’t fix,” he said.
Nearly a dozen of the estimated 50 audience members provided formal comments on the FTI report and on regional transportation needs – from rail and public transportation to services for the elderly.
Additional meetings are planned May 17 in Twin Falls, June 22 in Idaho Falls, July 19 in Coeur d’Alene, Aug. 16 in Boise and Sept. 20 in Pocatello.
Anyone who would like to comment on the FTI findings can do so any time before the next Legislative session, explained Transportation Board Chair Chuck Winder. Comments can be mailed to Public Involvement Coordinator Gwen Smith at ITD, 3311 W. State St., Boise, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org . Comments also will be accepted at each of the five remaining FTI meetings.