Governor, ITD schedule statewide conferences
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the Idaho Transportation Department will launch a series of statewide meetings – Building Roads, Building Bridges, Building Consensus – Monday to ask the public how best to pay for repairing, maintaining and improving the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.
The first meeting will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the College of Idaho in Caldwell. A brief introduction to the funding challenges will be presented at 4:15 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. in the Simplot Dining Hall’s Fireside Room. Gov. Otter will lead the presentation at 4:15 p.m.
Other meetings are scheduled in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday (July 16); Lewiston on Thursday (July 17); Idaho Falls, July 22; Pocatello, July 23; and Twin Falls, Aug. 5.
In addition to the public meetings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the governor’s staff and transportation department officials will meet at each location with area legislators and other local elected officials, business and industry leaders and local highway district representatives.
Escalating highway construction costs, declining revenue and unprecedented demand on Idaho’s transportation system have converged to create an annual revenue shortfall estimated at $240 million.
“This is too big a challenge to tackle all at once. It isn’t even going to get resolved in a year or two, so the dollar figure we’ve been using is just a target – a goal,” Gov. Otter said. “But without starting now to identify new revenue sources, enhance existing sources or some combination of the two, Idaho’s highways will keep deteriorating. We need to act now.”
One in five miles of state highway is considered to be in poor condition by engineering standards, and nearly half of the bridges on the state system are approaching their life expectancy of 50 years.
The solution will require innovative thinking and widespread collaboration, Idaho Transportation Department Director Pam Lowe said.
“This revenue storm has been building on the horizon for several years,” she said. “It is not a new challenge, and it is not unique to Idaho. We need to share the problems and challenges with the public and learn what options make the most sense.”
Several major factors are combining to widen the gap between available resources and transportation needs. The state fuel tax has not increased since 1996; the federal fuel tax has not changed since 1993; and base car registration fees dedicated to funding transportation have not changed since 1997.
At the same time, the National Construction Cost Index has increased more than 69 percent between 1997 and 2006. The cost of asphalt rose from $175 per ton in December to more than $430 in June; it is expected to nearly double within the next month.
Confronted with burgeoning gas prices, Idaho drivers have wisely turned to more fuel efficient vehicles and are beginning to cut their amount of driving, further reducing transportation revenue.
Idaho’s growth – fourth fastest in the nation – creates additional demand on the transportation system, yet is not keeping pace with rising construction and maintenance costs.
The issue goes beyond transportation budgets, Lowe emphasized. Without a strong transportation system, Idaho’s economic competitiveness will suffer. And without highway improvements, more Idaho motorists will sustain serious injury or death.
Gov. Otter and transportation officials hope the statewide meetings will provide a consensus for legislators when they assemble in Boise for the 2009 session.