JFAC members have been grilling new Transportation Director Pamela Lowe about GARVEE bonding plans for major highway improvements around the state. Senate Finance Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, wondered whether the bond funds couldn’t be targeted toward actual construction costs that are ballooning, rather than also covering design and engineering and the like. “You certainly could” do that, Lowe responded. “Doing that now would cause some juggling in the program.”
Several lawmakers wanted to know how the GARVEE program is affecting other, non-bonded, everyday highway projects around the state, and Lowe said there is an impact. “You have to make holes in the program to pay that debt service, and that debt service, because it’s a federal obligation, is going to come first,” she said.
However, she noted that at least in the initial years, several of the GARVEE projects already were on the drawing boards for Idaho anyway, so they were removed from the regular highway plan – freeing up funds for the bond payments. There will be more impact in later years, she said.
Overall, Lowe said, “I recognize the GARVEE program has had a rough start. … Certainly the numbers have changed,” and the bonding program is starting a little more slowly than originally anticipated. Yet, she said, “I believe the GARVEE program will … prove to be a good value to Idaho’s taxpayers. … We can build these needed projects now, not 25 years from now.”
All the GARVEE-funded projects, including major upgrades to U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho and major freeway upgrades in the Treasure Valley, are scheduled to be completed by 2013. Without GARVEE, that work wouldn’t get done until 2032, Lowe said.