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Audit cites poor maintenance of Idaho roads

Tue., Jan. 20, 2009

Changes could save state millions

BOISE – A long-awaited performance audit of the Idaho Transportation Department suggests the state could save millions through better management – but could save hundreds of millions by better maintaining the roads and bridges it already has.

“The current situation facing Idaho’s highway system is untenable,” declared auditor Bob Thomas, a consultant from Olympia. “The state is falling further and further behind in its ability to maintain and preserve its highway and bridge infrastructure. … Idaho is getting further and further into a hole.”

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, said the report “reiterates what the governor’s been saying for the last two years: Our roads are falling apart. … You pay a little bit now, or you pay a heck of a lot later.”

Gov. Butch Otter welcomed the results of the $450,000 audit, which the Legislature commissioned last year. Consultants extensively analyzed the department and its operations, and compared it with transportation departments in nine other states.

“Simply put, we are trying to accomplish 2009 goals with 1996 dollars,” Otter wrote in his formal response to the audit, adding that he’s directing ITD Director Pamela Lowe to review the audit findings and develop “action plans” to address them.

Otter has proposed a combination of small gas-tax increases, car and truck registration fee increases, a rental car tax and other measures that over the next five years would garner up to an additional $174.5 million a year in funding for roads. But the audit looked at his original proposal last year, for $240 million in taxes and fees, and concluded even that wouldn’t be enough.

Because 38 percent of that increase would go to local highway jurisdictions and 5 percent to the Idaho State Police under Idaho’s existing distribution formula for highway funds, the $240 million plan would bring ITD just $137 million, the audit found. At that figure, “preservation and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure will fall $55 million short through 2013,” the audit predicted.

Auditors recommended a $6 million investment in a new maintenance management system, a computer software system that Idaho lacks. They also predicted $11 million in savings over the next five years from various management improvements and said Idaho could save up to $19.6 million on its bond issues by following different short-term interest rate strategies, though ITD disputed that.

Other recommendations include switching from the current “worst-first” strategy for managing deteriorating roads, to a “preservation-first” approach that fixes roads sooner; more statewide coordination of what the audit termed an excessively decentralized department; prioritizing maintenance, restoration and preservation of existing roads and bridges ahead of building new ones; and rigorous and independent cost-effectiveness evaluations for new road construction projects.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or

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