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Eye On Boise

ITD’s contract with Connecting Idaho Partners now up to $85M

The contract with Connecting Idaho Partners - the one that former ITD Director Pam Lowe contends played a key role in her firing - is now up to $85 million, according to the Idaho Transportation Department. The department signed an additional contract with the group, which consists of CH2M Hill and URS Corp., formerly Washington Group, in April for $14 million for management work related to the next $228 million worth of GARVEE bonds, which finance highway projects by borrowing against future federal highway payouts. In June of 2008, ITD signed another $26 million contract with CIP, that time to oversee $250 million in bonds; and the original contract, issued in August of 2006 and originally envisioned to total $52 million, ended up at $45 million after various reductions. That was for startup of the program and overseeing the first $215 million in bonding.

"We made reductions where possible," said Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, noting that $7 million in work was pulled from the first contract and handed back over to ITD staff. The second contract, in 2008, started around $30 million, but was scaled back the same way to $26 million. "We're following the legislative intent by bringing as much work back to ITD as possible," Stratten said.

Connecting Idaho Partners won the huge management contract after a contentious process that saw an unsuccessful bidder crying foul; Lowe contends in her wrongful-firing lawsuit that she was pressured by the Otter Administration when she tried to cut back the contract with the politically well-connected firms, and then fired. The administration has denied her claims.

The three contracts ITD has signed with Connecting Idaho Partners cover a total of $693 million in bonding; the entire Connecting Idaho program, first promoted by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as a way to do 30 years worth of highway projects in just 10 years, originally was estimated at $998 million, but Stratten said cost savings and other cutbacks have lowered that to closer to $900 million. He said it's not clear whether another contract still would be signed with CIP, but the final phase of Connecting Idaho would be mostly construction, which the department tends to manage in-house. "It's yet to be determined if another one is required," he said, noting that it's up to the Legislature to authorize bonding each year. "If CIP's services were required, it would likely be less than the $14 million of the latest contract, but that's yet to be determined."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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