March 4, 1998 in Nation/World

U.S. 95 Bill Hits Detour In Committee Southern Lawmakers Send Measure Out For Amendments

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It was North vs. South with a vengeance Tuesday as the Senate Transportation Committee debated Sen. Jack Riggs’ bill to upgrade U.S. Highway 95.

The measure survived an attempt to kill it but then was sent out for amendments. Some committee members want to tap trucking companies to help pay the bill. Others want other changes.

The measure would raise car registration fees for 12 years to fund specific projects to improve the state’s only north-south route, along with four other highways around the state. The projects, all identified by the state Transportation Department as unfunded needs, are designed to make the roads safer.

“I thought this was a good bill the way it was,” Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, said afterward. “If there are honest intentions of improving this bill and passing it, I would support it.”

But he acknowledged some senators may be looking for a backdoor way to to kill the issue. “We’ll know soon enough.”

Sen. Robert Lee, R-Rexburg, fumed, “… You’re asking a lot of people clear away from that area, who receive very little benefit, to pay.”

Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, countered, “When I look at southern Idaho, you have a four-lane highway that connects all the major cities. … We helped pay for the infrastructure in southern Idaho. Now it’s our turn to upgrade 95.”

Riggs said upgrading the roads would improve both safety and commerce.

Jim Dalton, University of Idaho student lobbyist, testified strongly in favor of the bill, saying with no air service into Moscow, the 11,000 students from all over the state who attend UI must drive on the dangerous, accident-plagued highway.

Four thousand of those students are from eastern Idaho, he noted.

Sen. Lin Whitworth, D-Inkom, put Dalton on the spot.

“If I handed you a bill to help pay for the students in Pocatello to go to Salt Lake City and back to go to school, would you pay?” he asked.

Dalton responded, “I think they’re suffering a great loss in not getting an Idaho education.”

The tense committee hearing dissolved into laughter.

Dalton then told the committee, “I would argue this issue is an issue for the state as a whole. … It will affect the state’s economy as a whole, and it will affect all of us in the long run.”

The committee heard from supporter after supporter of the bill. The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state’s biggest business lobby, backed it. So did the Idaho Transportation Department.

So did the American Automobile Association of Idaho, State Farm Insurance, the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce and the Associated General Contractors.

Only Ray Oliver of the Idaho Association of Highway Districts spoke against the bill. He said local highway districts, cities and counties should get half of any new money raised for roads, and that trucking companies should help pay for any road improvements.

Riggs’ bill, originally designed to include a penny-a-gallon gas tax increase, had been scaled back to rely only on car registration fees. That meant truckers wouldn’t help pay for it.

Dave Carlson of AAA said his group supported the bill but would prefer to have truckers help pay, too.

When the bill comes up for amendment in the full Senate, any senator may offer amendments.

Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, the committee chairman, said he will be among those proposing amendments to the bill. Frasure said he wanted to address Oliver’s concerns.

“There are going to have to be some very healthy changes made to increase the comfort level,” he said. “It deserves more consideration.”

Frasure said people in his southern Idaho district aren’t in favor of the plan, but he sees it as a statewide issue and wants the full Senate to work on it.

“If they don’t like what Sen. Riggs did, then let’s see how they would solve the problem.”

, DataTimes


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