BOISE – Millions of dollars in high-priority road projects – topped by replacement of North Idaho’s Dover Bridge – won final approval from the Idaho Transportation Board on Tuesday for funding from the federal economic stimulus package.
“We can get all the projects that are really high priority for the state – especially the Dover Bridge,” board member Jim Coleman said. “It’s finally gonna get done.”
The board’s list now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who will present his recommendations to lawmakers on how to spend the federal money. Otter’s been a strong booster of replacing the Dover Bridge on U.S. Highway 2, which has gained national attention for its deteriorating condition. Lawmakers will then write budgets that include 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 they’d identified earlier.
Initially, that list totaled $182 million, the amount Idaho will receive for all stimulus-funded road projects. Lawmakers thought that list would have to be pared down, because part of that money was also needed 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 U.S. Highway 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 some key materials, from steel to fuel, have plummeted.
“We’re getting some good bids right now,” Tom Cole, chief engineer for Idaho Transportation Department, said. “That’s a good thing and a bad thing with the economy.” ITD also 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. Plus, as directed by the stimulus rules, $5.9 million would go to “enhancement” projects, including interchange landscaping and rest area improvements.
That all adds up to $183.9 million – about $2 million more than the stimulus 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. Projects also include 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 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.”