A bill that would allow for U.S. Highway 95 improvements promises a new and untested funding idea - a combination of bonds and tolls.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, would raise $394 million to upgrade Highway 95.
The House Transportation Committee voted Monday to send the bill to the House for a vote. If the bill passes the Legislature, it would go to a vote of the general public.
The state hasn’t used a bond measure since it built the Capitol in 1905 and hasn’t used tolls on its roads since 1867, when Idaho was a territory.
To pay for the bonds, the state would raise the gas tax by 4 cents and increase vehicle registration fees by $12. Diesel fuel and semitrucks would be exempt.
The proposed toll would be imposed on a section of road that doesn’t exist. The bill sets out a plan to build an alternate truck route through Indian Valley.
“Highway 95 long has been recognized as a problem,” said John Goedde, vice president of the North Idaho Chamber of Commerce.
The alternate truck route would cut an hour’s time for truckers traveling on Highway 95, said Goedde. For the time saved, it would be worth paying a toll, he said. The Idaho Transportation Department still must decide to include that part of the bill in the initiative.
The current road, which runs from Payette to New Meadows, would be used primarily by tourists and local residents. The alternate route would keep the current road free of slow, heavy trucks.
Goedde said that fixing Highway 95 is imperative, especially now that the North American Free Trade Alliance has opened trade with Canada. Truck traffic has gone from one heavy truck an hour on Highway 95 before NAFTA to one every seven minutes.
“We don’t want trucks going through Washington and Oregon if they can come through Idaho,” he said. “It would mean more money for Idaho if we kept them in the state and help sustain the 45,000 jobs in the state that are dependent on Highway 95.”
Besides the financial benefits of fixing the highway, there is also a safety factor. Ten percent of all the accidents in the state happen on Highway 95, said Goedde.
When you consider that more than 5,000 of Idaho’s “best and brightest” regularly drive 95 home from the University of Idaho, that’s a scary fact.
A rock and mudslide closed the roadway for several days recently, forcing motorists to take detours of hundreds of miles through Washington, Oregon and Montana.
“It is going to take a lot of money to fix that road,” said Chuck Winder, the chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board.
He said the bond proposal was “the best alternative available to us at this time under our current funding.”