Board commits funds to highways, suspends
Faced with flat revenues and escalating construction costs, the Idaho Transportation Board decided Thursday to preserve funds for state and local highway projects by suspending planned programs beyond 2010 aimed at addressing tourism and congestion issues.
The transportation board voted against accepting applications for projects in 2011 and beyond for the federally funded enhancement and congestion programs. In addition planning projects were eliminated. The decision will be part of the draft State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) that will be open to public comment throughout the summer.
The transportation board will make a final decision on the STIP in September. Projects already included in the enhancement and congestion programs for 2008 through 2010 will be funded.
"We are having to decide between maintaining our highways and suspending programs. The board is not making this decision lightly," Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Darrell V Manning said.
"This is a tough but prudent decision, and the responsible thing to do," Governor C.L. Butch Otter said. "It shows more clearly than ever how important it is that we all work together THIS YEAR to find solutions to our revenue needs in time for the 2009 session of the Legislature."
The transportation board considered five options, including across-the-board cuts in all programs.
The board's recommendation minimizes disruption to existing projects in the STIP and protects the investment in pavement rehabilitation. Suspending future funding of the enhancement, congestion and planning programs would add an average of $12 million to the $80 million annually that will be spent on pavement preservation over the next four years.
A study sponsored by the Forum on Transportation Investment in 2006 showed Idaho should invest an additional $200 million annually to meet its road and bridge needs. That figure has climbed to $240 million when adjusted for inflation.
Projects funded in Idaho through the enhancement program include bike paths, visitor centers and historic kiosks. Projects funded through the congestion program include transit vehicles, street sweepers and traffic signal coordinating devices. Projects funded through the planning program include corridor and regional studies.
Since 1991, when the enhancement and congestion programs were created by Congress, the Idaho Transportation Board has approved $127 million to fund 539 projects.
The department also is working to cap the cost of its highway preservation projects through its Practical Design efficiency effort. The Practical Design initiative was started by the transportation department in 2007 and already has identified more than $50 million in savings.
"Applying the practical design concept to our pavement preservation projects will focus us on what needs to be done to protect the pavement while stretching taxpayer dollars," Transportation Department Director Pamela Lowe said.
Preservation projects, which include thin asphalt overlays and seal coats (applying oil and rock chips), will be limited to a cost of $170,000 per lane mile.
"These measures will help us preserve our highways for the short term," Lowe said, "but without additional federal or state revenue, programs will need to be cut in the future."