Dover Bridge makes ITD’s final cut for stimulus money

TUESDAY, MARCH 3, 2009, 3:40 P.M.

BOISE - Millions in high-priority road projects - topped by replacement of North Idaho’s Dover Bridge - won final approval from the Idaho Transportation Board today for funding from the federal economic stimulus bill.

Transportation Board member Jim Coleman said, “We can get all the projects that are really high priority for the state - especially the Dover Bridge. It’s finally gonna get done. That’s kind of exciting.”

The Transportation Board’s list now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who will present his recommendations to lawmakers as to how to spend the federal stimulus money; Otter’s been a strong booster of replacing the Dover Bridge. Lawmakers will then write budgets including the funds, to send to Otter to sign into law.

The board approved a plan that funds all eight of the major highway projects around the state that they’d identified earlier - even though at first, that list totaled $182 million, the total amount Idaho’s going to receive for road projects, including money for local highway district projects.

But now the prices on the major state projects have dropped enough to fit it all in. Here’s why: The initial plans for one of the projects, the Twin Falls Alternate Route on US 93, didn’t account for $15.9 million in federal “high-priority” funds that already were available for that project. Plus, prices for all the others dropped a little bit thanks to the poor economy - bids are coming in lower, and costs for certain key materials, from steel to fuel, have plummeted.

“Prices have come down significantly,” said Pete Hartman of the Federal Highway Administration.

Tom Cole, chief engineer for ITD, said, “We’re getting some good bids right now. That’s a good thing and a bad thing with the economy.” Plus, he said, ITD has more details about the projects now, and its numbers are more precise than earlier estimates.

The board approved $28 million in local highway projects for stimulus funds, and $149.9 million in state highway projects, including the Dover Bridge, the Vista Interchange, and six other projects around the state. As directed by the stimulus bill, another $5.9 million will go to “enhancement” projects, from landscaping to rest area improvements around the state.

That all adds up to $183.9 million - about $2 million more than the stimulus actually will send to Idaho for such road projects. That may mean that not all of the local projects get funded, or that the first ones in get the money; some of those still are being defined. The board also approved $18.4 million in public transit projects.

Among the local projects to make the list: Reconstruction of Hanley Avenue from Government Way to 4th Street in Dalton Gardens, an $860,000 project. The list of local projects also includes paving streets in Boise, replacing two bridges in Pocatello, seal-coating pavement in Lewiston and Rexburg, and revamping an intersection in Caldwell.

Nearly $11 million is targeted to roadway preservation and safety improvements in rural highway districts around the state, to be equally divided among the regions. All the local projects have a year to get to the point of advertising the projects for bids.

The major state projects are on a faster track, however: Four would go to bid as soon as this month, and the Dover Bridge project is scheduled for bid advertising on May 5, assuming the governor and Legislature approve the plans.

Dave Amick, manager of ITD’s office of transportation investments, who went over the rules for the money with the board, told them that, overall, ” ‘Use it or lose it’ is just about as simple as we could explain it.”

Said Coleman, the board’s Panhandle member, “We’ve figured out a way to get all the priority projects plus put in a lot more money than we usually would for local roads - that’s a pretty good accomplishment. ITD staff did a wonderful job.”

Amick told the board, “We’re looking at projects that will provide economic benefits as much as possible around the state,” not only for construction jobs, but also “longer-term economic benefits, in terms of improved transportation capability.”

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