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Path To Road Repairs Paved With Disagreement Truckers And Business Group Weigh In, But What About Public?

They’ve got their work cut out for them.

A contingent of state lawmakers, concerned about how to pay for $4.1 billion worth of repairs to Idaho’s crumbling roads, are travelling the state, trying to feel the public’s pulse.

If they can find it.

In Lewiston Monday, they heard angry truckers say a gas tax hike would kill them.

In Sandpoint Tuesday morning, residents said a gas tax was just the thing.

In Coeur d’Alene Tuesday afternoon, the Chamber of Commerce recommended selling $300 million in bonds to fix U.S. Highway 95.

Eventually, Rep. Jim Kempton, R-Albion, looked out at the Coeur d’Alene crowd of about 30 government, chamber and public works officials.

How many people in the room, Kempton asked, were “Joe Blow citizens?”

Only three people raised their hands. “I’m curious, how in a town of 25,000 people, we get only three citizens who want to talk about a $4.1 billion backlog in our roads,” said Kempton, stammering. “I just wish we could get a bigger part of that 25,000 here.”

A state study recommends raising Idaho’s 21-cent-per-gallon gas tax by as much as 9 cents. The Legislature will vote on the proposals next year.

“You have categories good, fair and poor for our roads, but you left one off: terrible,” Bonners Ferry Mayor Harold Sims told lawmakers. “I think you should raise the gas tax as necessary.”

“Gas tax, I feel, is probably the fairest way. It gets everyone that drives our roads,” said Dick Edinger, an Eastside Highway District commissioner.

Gordon Tate of Coeur d’Alene said he wants to see truckers pay more.

“I think they’re doing far more damage to the road than the lighter vehicles are,” he said.

But trucking companies from Lewiston warned legislators Monday that a hike in the state gas tax could eventually be passed on to their customers.

The Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce’s focus on U.S. 95 drew a cold reception. The winding two-lane road is so bad, chamber president Patrick McGaughey said, that truckers deliberately go through Washington and Montana, instead of Idaho. But lawmakers seemed reluctant to put the state in that much debt. Sen. Hal Bunderson said he thought it would violate the state’s constitution.

Local lawmakers were split over what to do.

“Our roads are in terrible disrepair,” said Rep. Jeff Alltus, R-Coeur d’Alene. “But I’m not ever going to vote for new taxes. The government is getting enough money from the people. Let’s tighten our belt and cut some areas.”

Similarly, House Minority Leader Jim Stoicheff said neither of the options satisfied him.

“I’m not voting for any more taxes. People have had it up to here,” he said, motioning to his neck.

Other legislators support a gas tax, although they said they wanted the money to pay for roads, not planning and administration.

“We’ve got a lot of roads in Idaho that need a lot of work,” said Rep. Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum. “The people I’ve talked to don’t seem to mind a 3- to 6-cent tax increase.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo