Idaho's Transportation Board - faced with a staff recommendation to make replacement of the deterioriated Dover Bridge a top priority for federal stimulus funds - instead dropped the project to No. 7 on its list in a special meeting yesterday, with only six projects likely to get funded. Board members said North Idaho already is receiving lots of transportation money with the Sandpoint Bypass project going forward and the money should be spread around the state - a decision that infuriated North Idaho Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and also aroused the ire this morning of Gov. Butch Otter.
"I'm just astounded," Keough said. "I think it's breathtaking that they would take the worst bridge in the state and one of the top 10 in the country (and treat it) in the manner they did. It's a pretty important issue for my district."
Otter, questioned about the issue this morning as he addressed reporters at an Associated Press pre-legislative session event, said, "I disagree with that philosophy. I think the money should go, No. 1, where we are having accidents, where we are killing people. The Dover Bridge has already been reduced three times in its weight capacity."
He added, "The real tragedy of this is when we first started talking about replacing the Dover Bridge, we could've done it for $8 million." The project is now estimated at $40 million.
Otter said he believes federal stimulus money should go first to where
Idaho citizens face safety problems, and second to areas of serious
congestion. The ITD board picked six projects statewide, including
improvements to Highway 95 in the Moscow area and road projects in
Pocatello, Twin Falls and eastern Idaho, but pushed down the Dover
Bridge project and included nothing in the state's most populous area,
the Treasure Valley area around Boise.
Keough said, "I think the regionalism is getting worse. They're asking taxpayers to pay more - in districts like mine, taxpayers are going to say, 'For what?'" She said North Idaho has seen significant investments in roads recently, but only to catch up on long-neglected safety and congestion problems with the region's roads. "Then they take a safety issue like the Dover Bridge off the list, and want us to throw ourselves on the sword and vote for a tax increase."
Otter said the Dover Bridge is "about ready to fall down," though ITD says it's safe for now, though substandard and a priority for replacement.