Idaho could lose a third of its federal funding for highways - $100 million – in the fall of 2014 if Congress doesn’t take action, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness told legislative budget writers this morning. The problem, he said, is that the federal highway funding bill, which runs for two years, expires on Sept. 30, 2014. “My concern is the fact that we’re borrowing $12 billion to fund transportation nationwide … from the federal general fund,” Ness said. “So if new revenues aren’t raised, in all likelihood, they won’t continue that borrowing. That $12 billion is about a third of transportation funding nationwide.”
The shortfall at the federal level is related to how the nation – and Idaho – traditionally have funded highways, Ness said, relying on gas taxes. As cars become more fuel-efficient and gas prices go up, prompting people to change their driving habits, that raises less money per mile driven. In Idaho, state transportation funds have held fairly steady, Ness said, but that’s been largely due to an increasing population.
Ness said more revenue will be needed in the future to maintain Idaho’s highway system, much more, but he’s not proposing anything this year. “This year, while I would like to be way out in front running with a revenue package, you have a lot of things on your plate, running from school reform to personal property tax to health care, all those things,” Ness said. Also, he said if Idahoans are going to be asked to pay more, he wants to make it clear what return they’ll get. “At this point we’ll get through the session and see where we go from there,” Ness said. “This is the year to start discussion about revenue. We have no specific proposals.”
One other note from this morning’s ITD budget hearing: Idaho highway fatalities are now at their lowest level since the 1950s. Ness credits highway safety initiatives for the drop; other factors include safer cars and better-engineered roads.