House Clears Highway 95 Referendum If Senate Goes Along, Voters Will Decide On Fixes
Every year, like clockwork, North Idaho leaders plead with lawmakers here to fix the state’s major north-south route, U.S. Highway 95.
And, each year, they are sent back home with a pat on the back and no progress.
But for the first time, there’s a chance the winding, bumpy road Idahoans affectionately call “the goat trail” may get its needed fix.
The House voted 45-24 on Wednesday to pass a law allowing voters to decide whether to issue $400 million in bonds to repair the highway. Bonds would be paid for through a 4-cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax and a $12 increase in vehicle registration fees.
“This bill will allow the citizens of Idaho to vote to fix Highway 95,” said Rep. Hilde Kellogg, a Post Falls Republican. “It will appear in front of voters in the form of a referendum.”
Not all legislators shared Kellogg’s enthusiasm.
Rep. Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, said that voters in his district do not have the money to pay for the taxes called for in this bill, nor the population to make a difference in a statewide vote.
Stoicheff also is worried that additional bond offerings would be considered to repair other roads.
“I don’t want my people to live from bond to bond,” he said. “If we want a flat road we can move to North or South Dakota.”
Other legislators echoed concern over the increased tax burden.
The gas tax was raised last year, prompting an increase in the price charged by suppliers to retailers.
“Our culture is crumbling under the weight of taxes,” said Rep. Bill Sali, R-Meridian.
Others argued that this is primarily a bill for the benefit of North Idaho.
But supporters of the bill saw it as a way to stop the widening gap between North and South.
“Last time we did this (bonded), we built the Capitol,” said Kellogg. “I think it’s exciting that this time we could build a state.”
U.S. 95 is notorious for making the drive across the state both beautiful and hair-raising, especially in the winter.
“We have trucking firms in Lewiston that will not run their trucks on this highway,” said Rep. Dan Mader, R-Lewiston. “We need to put a proposal on the table that can be done.”
Ironically, the trucking industry would be among the hardest hit by current plans to pay back the bonds.
Although the House bill passed, it still has a rough road ahead in the Senate.
“That fact that it’s a referendum measure helps it,” said Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden. “But it’s going to take some work over here.”