From 2007 to 2012, traffic crashes in Idaho dropped by 18 percent, according to research by Scott Stokes, deputy director of the Idaho Transportation Department, while fatalities and serious injuries on Idaho’s roads fell 25 percent. “That is saving the lives of approximately 80 people per year,” Stokes told lawmakers this week, in presentations to both the House and Senate transportation committees. But the numbers are even more pronounced for the corridors that Idaho targeted in recent years for major highway upgrades through the use of GARVEE bonds, or Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles, a type of bonding that allowed the state to borrow against its future federal transportation allocations.
In the Garwood to Sagle corridor on Highway 95 in North Idaho, between State Highway 53 and Ohio Match Road, crashes fell 25 percent in the three years after construction, compared to the three years before, even as traffic volumes went up by more than 10 percent. At another major construction project south of Coeur d’Alene on Highway 95, Worley to Setters, crashes fell by 72 percent – even as traffic volumes went up 36 percent from 2007 to 2012.
“It is clear that when we invest in safety, the return on the investment is dramatic,” Stokes told lawmakers.
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, a former ITD board chairman, noted that the GARVEE projects, pushed by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in his “Connecting Idaho” program, were controversial. “One of the key things was safety and trying to reduce fatalities,” Winder said. “I just wanted to say … seeing the reductions in fatal crashes makes all of the criticism I’ve taken about GARVEE over the years more than worth it.”
Stokes, who also documented a 42 percent decrease in crashes on I-84 between the Garrity and Meridian interchanges after construction, a 34 percent drop at the Orchard to Isaacs Canyon stretch, and a 76 percent reduction in crashes after construction on U.S. 30 between Topaz and Lava Hot Springs in eastern Idaho, said, “This is something that I’ve been interested in since my days in Coeur d’Alene.” He long served as ITD’s district engineer in Coeur d’Alene, before becoming the department’s deputy director in 2007. “I’d always ask my engineers: I want to see before and after on our projects.”