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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

ITD moves up 27 road, bridge projects due to transportation funding boost

Meeting yesterday in Pocatello, the Idaho Transportation Board selected 27 projects, totaling $46.8 million, to complete in 2016 with funding from the recently approved gas tax and registration fee increases that lawmakers passed ruing their regular session this year. You can see the full list here; all involve either bridge or pavement restoration or preservation.

 "We are now accelerating critical projects more rapidly from the long list of needs,” said ITD Board Chairman Jerry Whitehead. “This is an important beginning to preserve our system by replacing and preserving our bridges, as well as our pavements, and keeping Idaho's economy and citizens moving."

The projects were selected from among those already listed on ITD’s five-year plan, but slated for future years. "We commend ITD engineers and staff for the quick response on making these projects ready for construction,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “Organizational changes have made possible the advancement of these critical projects."

The transportation funding bill that Idaho lawmakers approved on the final day of this year’s regular legislative session, HB 314a, raises $95 million a year, aimed at cutting into the state’s $262 million annual road and bridge maintenance backlog.  That includes $63.2 million from a 7-cent increase in Idaho's 25-cent per gallon gas tax effective July 1; $26.8 million from increased registration fees on cars and light trucks; $3.5 million from fees on commercial trucks; and $641,000 from new fees on electric and hybrid cars of $140 on electric cars and $75 on hybrids.

The bill also includes a “surplus eliminator” that would provide additional funding for road work if state revenues come in higher than expected; at this point, that’s exactly what they’re doing. At Tuesday’s Legislative Council meeting, legislative Budget Director Cathy Holland-Smith told lawmakers, “We have a $91.8 million surplus as of the end of April.” At this point, state general fund tax revenue to date is up 7.8 percent over last year, compared to the forecasted 5.3 percent. Based on projections for May and June, Holland-Smith said the figure is expected to rise to 8.5 percent by the end of the fiscal year.

That means, after paying $18 million in deficiency warrants, mainly for fire suppression costs, and depositing $28.2 million in the budget stabilization fund, the state’s main rainy-day savings account, there could still be another $45 million or more left for transportation. Lawmakers will consider that next January as a supplemental appropriation when they convene for their 2016 session.

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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