Idaho Transportation

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 7129
Boise, ID 83707
Fax: 208.334.8563

ITD conveys needs, priorities for consideration
in reauthorization discussion

Like many rural states in the West, Idaho faces a severe challenge in maintaining and improving highways because of rapidly escalating construction costs and slowed revenue growth. Federal funding can help forestall a crisis or hasten it.

That generally was a message the Idaho Transportation Board and a coalition of four other western states forwarded recently to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The commission is accepting formal comments from states as a preliminary step in reauthorization of the federal transportation bill, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters heads the commission, which is expected to report to Congress later this year.

ITD Director Pam Lowe submitted a six-page report from Idaho to the commission. Idaho also joined Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming in submitting comments to the commission.

“…we consider it essential that the Commission’s report and recommendations expressly recognize that strong Federal investment in surface transportation in rural states, as well as in metropolitan areas, is and will remain important to the national interest,” according to Idaho’s comments.

“It is essential to the economy of the nation to maintain and improve a strong highway and surface transportation system in and across large rural states … Highways are the key to the U.S. freight transportation system, carrying nearly 80 percent of domestic freight tonnage.

In Idaho, commercial truck traffic has increased from 13.6 percent of total AVMT (annual vehicle miles traveled) in 1993 to 18.3 percent in 2005. National studies show that commercial truck traffic is expected to double in volume by 2035.”

Idaho’s report also emphasized the importance of a safe, efficient transportation system for movement agricultural products, natural resources and military materials, and to enhance tourist and recreational opportunities.

The funding challenge confronting Idaho and most other states makes it difficult to maintain that network without increased contributions from the federal government. The Forum on Transportation Investment, a broad-based constituency formed in 2004 to identify funding needs and solutions in Idaho, indicated:

  • Idaho faces a $30 billion shortfall in transportation funding between 2005 and 2035.
  • The annual projected shortfall is $200 million, or roughly equivalent to the amount received through the federal-aid construction program
  • The investment gap has increased since the forum’s report because of inflationary costs of concrete, asphalt, steel and fuel
“This extreme inflation means that Idaho’s already inadequate funding will be able to construct or maintain even fewer lane miles of highways and repair or replace even fewer bridges,” according to Idaho’s report. “…In short, we have significant and growing unmet needs just to maintain and preserve the system.”

The report identifies a number of short- and long-term measures Congress could implement to address the funding dilemma. Among them are:

  • The Highway Trust Fund is perhaps the only trust fund in the Federal Government not credited with interest on its balance. That could be corrected, perhaps even retroactively to the beginning of SAFETEA-LU.
  • Some highway users receive back from the Federal government credits (essentially refunds) equal to the gas taxes they pay. Such refunds should be paid out of the General Fund of the Treasury, not out of the Highway Trust Fund as is the case today.
  • The proceeds of the tax assessed on “gas guzzler” vehicles could be placed in the Highway Trust Fund.
  • The Highway Trust Fund should not be drained by unauthorized expenditures from the fund. The Administration’s budget submission for FY 2008 proposes using the Highway Account to pay for certain NHTSA vehicle research activities that are not authorized to be undertaken with Highway Trust Fund monies. This should not be done.

Comments on the structure of a future federal surface transportation program:

  • The highway program should continue to be a federally assisted state program and should direct an increased percentage of program funds to the states.
  • The highway program should continue to provide funding for interstates, the NHS, other arterials, and major collector routes, including an emphasis on improving safety on rural roads.
  • While maintaining eligibility for arterials and major collectors, we would increase the percentage of overall program funding dedicated to the interstates, provided that the overall percentage of the program that is apportioned to states increases, as we recommend, or at least does not decline. The interstates are critically important to freight.Creating a new road system, with new rules, or pitting states against each other in a new competition to be part of some new federal system does not strike us as constructive.
  • Further, over the last two or three decades tens of thousands of rural rail branch lines have been abandoned. Over that time, Class I railroads have shed over 100,000 routes miles. While some of these former Class I miles are still operated by smaller railroads, the reduced reach of the rail network means that many areas, particularly rural areas, must rely more heavily on trucks and the road network for important commerce needs.

See the five-state coalition report
See an April 16 news article in the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune

Published 4-27-07