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Highway 95 Repair Drive Takes A New Twist Pocatello Senator Plans To Tour Highway, Craft A Bill

Despite failing in the Legislature this year, a grand plan to fix U.S. Highway 95 from end to end may have gained an important ally.

Sen. Evan Frasure, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, cast the tie-breaking vote to kill the bill. But the Pocatello Republican said he plans to spend the summer traveling Highway 95, working with North Idaho senators and representatives, and talking with local officials.

He wants to help develop a new bill that will win statewide support.

“I’m very interested in solving the problem,” Frasure said.

Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls, is excited. “I really appreciate his interest,” she said. “I look forward to his ideas.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, will show Frasure her district’s highway problems in Bonner and Boundary counties this weekend. “I’ve got some parts of Highway 95 I want to show him,” Keough said.

Another Senate Transportation Committee member, Sen. Cecil Ingram, R-Boise, is scheduled to accompany Frasure.

Frasure said he resents speculation that the bill died because of north-south regionalism.

“If that was the case, you guys would lose every time, 26-9.”

That’s because there are just nine legislative districts - and nine senators - from north of Boise.

“The bill was defeated on its flaws.”

Frasure said he had concerns about the whole idea of bonding, about local priorities that may or may not have been addressed in the bill, about toll-road provisions, and implications for all state road construction.

The bill called for a statewide vote on a $394 million bond issue, but the vote wouldn’t have come until 1998.

“We have a year,” Frasure said. “So why rush through with poorly drafted legislation on this issue that could be setting policy for all road construction in the state in the future?”

After a summer’s work, Frasure said he hopes he and others can “craft a better piece of legislation. It may or may not include bonding.”

“We can look at a number of other options to fund it,” Frasure said. “I’m wide open.”

Kellogg, who has pushed the bill for two years, said she’s focused on bonding because of the need for extensive repairs and upgrades in the two-lane, accident-prone route right away.

“We need it now,” she said. “I’m hoping for next year we’ll have something that can work, and give the people of Idaho the opportunity to bond - unless they can find that kind of pot of money (elsewhere).”

Bringing Highway 95 up to minimum standards from the Canadian border to the Oregon line has been estimated to cost nearly $400 million. That would pay for a new paving, safer bridges and railroad crossings, straightening hazardous curves, and bringing the road to at least a standard 34-foot width throughout.

Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, who spoke out strongly in the Legislature for the bill this year, said, “There were some flaws in the bill, and it’ll come back stronger. That groundwork has been set up now.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo