BOISE – North Idaho lawmakers successfully pushed approval of an $82 million highway bonding program through the Legislature’s joint budget committee Wednesday, a move welcomed by Gov. Butch Otter.
“I think it’d be nuts to drop the program in the middle – let’s finish these projects,” said state Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls.
Hammond and Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, proposed the statewide plan for the fourth year of the “Connecting Idaho” program. That’s down from the $125 million Otter originally proposed, but Otter has switched one of the projects, a Boise freeway interchange, to federal economic stimulus funds; that accounts for the difference.
“The governor believes that $82 million still allows him to accomplish his goals, which is, we started these projects, we need to finish them,” said Clete Edmunson, Otter’s transportation adviser.
The plan won the support of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a 14-6 vote. Two other North Idaho lawmakers had proposed their own versions of the plan – Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, calling for the full $125 million in bonding, and Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, proposing a $50 million bonding plan – but Keough backed Hammond’s successful measure.
Keough said stopping the bonding program would mean wasting the millions already invested into environmental approvals on bond-funded projects like the Garwood-to-Sagle project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho. “If we leave those things on the shelf, they become dated,” she said.
Henderson said he thought $50 million would be enough to continue the program, since bids are coming in much lower now, and the Idaho Transportation Department is reporting $36 million in savings from lower bids on existing bond-funded projects.
Broadsword told the joint committee that between the federal economic stimulus and the bond program, which borrows against the state’s future federal highway allocations to fund big projects upfront now, “We are going to see a boost to our economy in the state that we can’t expect in future years.”
The bill authorizing the bonding still needs approval from both houses and the governor’s signature to become law.
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