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