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Eye On Boise

Idaho transportation chief: With pressing road needs, Idaho has been relying more on uncertain federal $$

Idaho is increasingly reliant on federal funds to build and maintain its transportation system, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness told legislative budget writers this morning. The state has gone from 54 percent state funding in 1996 to 54 percent federal funding this year; the national average is 24 percent federal. “A 2014 Pew report ranks Idaho as one of the states most heavily reliant on federal transportation revenue,” Ness said. “Unfortunately, federal transportation dollars are a political football, and the large urbanized states are pushing hard to get a greater portion of the highway trust fund. … If they succeed, there will be fewer dollars for rural … states like Idaho.”

Meanwhile, Ness said, “It is no secret that Idaho does not have enough funding to support the needs of its aging infrastructure.” The state has a $543 million annual shortfall in transportation funding, he said, including $262 million more needed just to preserve the system in its current condition. “Unfortunately, our costs are steadily increasing.” A new snowplow cost $90,000 in 1996, when Idaho last raised its gas tax, he said; today, they cost more than twice as much. The number of licensed drivers and the number of miles driven also have risen sharply since 1996. “The gas tax has remained flat for nearly 20 years, and there has been no adjustment for inflation,” Ness said.

Bridges across Idaho’s transportation system are nearing the end of their useful lives, he said, and pavement condition is deteriorating. “By deferring maintenance we can do today at lower costs, we are essentially passing on a rapidly growing debt to our children, and in this case, even to our grandchildren,” Ness told lawmakers. “The department is being squeezed between a revenue shortage and ever-increasing costs.” He said if the state eliminated the $262 million annual maintenance shortfall, all restricted bridges would be removed in 10 years.

If ITD got more money, Ness said, “We would be able to put that money to work immediately.”

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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