June 18, 2009 in Idaho

North Idaho freeway could include bottleneck

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

The Idaho Transportation Board meets Thursday in Boise.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - When the big Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on Highway 95 in North Idaho is completed, it may have a two-mile, two-lane bottleneck at its southern end before it reaches the existing four-lane highway at Hayden.

The Idaho Transportation Board on Thursday reviewed an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that found that the board can’t adjust the project’s southern boundary without specific authorization from the state Legislature. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, proposed such legislation this year, but it died at the last minute in an end-of-session tiff between the House and the Senate.

“This is something we really messed up on and the Legislature messed up on,” said ITD board member Bruce Sweeney of Lewiston, “and we need to resurrect this. … It’s just stupidity, is what it is.”

ITD board member Gary Blick said the issue shows the danger of letting political pressure from the Legislature influence the state transportation board. “If our highway (system) becomes a political plum, we could have these kinds of things all over the state,” he said. “The professionals agree that it should be done, and the Legislature doesn’t.”

The problem is that the “Connecting Idaho” legislation identifies the Garwood-to-Sagle project, which is funded by bonds that will be paid off with future federal highway allocations, as ending, on its south end, at “Garwood.” Henderson said that’s not a specific point on a map, but it’s been interpreted as where State Highway 53 meets Highway 95. His unsuccessful legislation would have pinpointed the southern end of the new four-lane road at Wyoming Avenue, two miles to the south - eliminating the two-lane gap.

The transportation board previously passed a resolution to make the change, but the Attorney General’s opinion, issued this week, says they can’t do that. State law regarding the bonding program specifically says the transportation board can’t “increase the scope, nor add specific projects, nor in any manner extend or enlarge the transportation projects” described in the Connecting Idaho law.

Darrell Manning, ITD board chairman, said the board wants to expand the project to “what we all thought was the original terminus, but the law didn’t say that.”

Said Sweeney, “This whole thing is crazy to start with - that’s where that whole project should’ve started in the first place.”

Jim Coleman, the North Idaho Panhandle representative on the transportation board, said,

“However it happened, it happened. … It’s my understanding that the House and the Senate leadership has talked to Rep. Henderson, and said if it’s not funded in any other way, they will make this the first bill in the 2010 legislative session.”

The Attorney General’s opinion noted that while the board can’t expand the bonding program to include the two-mile gap, it could tap other funding sources for the project if any became available.

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