BOISE– Idaho’s roads are becoming increasingly dangerous with distracted drivers and a growing number of motorists, the director of the Idaho Department of Transportation said.
“Drivers are more distracted than ever before,” Brian Ness told state lawmakers on a budget-setting committee Friday. “And I think technology may be to blame for much of that.”
Legislation to impose a statewide ban on handheld cellphone use while driving is pending in the Senate, and distracted driving legislation is pending in the House. Ness isn’t taking a position on the legislation, but his agency is running a campaign aimed at having people put away distractions while driving.
“Our position is that every driver should focus on driving,” he told the Idaho Press. “We’re trying to change people’s behavior – put away the distractions, focus in the moment, focus on the driving.”
Ness was before the committee to present his agency’s budget. Republican Gov. Brad Little has proposed a 7.9% increase from last year to $785 million. Much of that is federal money and money from state gas taxes and vehicle registration.
The committee won’t start setting state agency budgets for several more weeks.
Ness said the agency has increased the percentage of pavement in the state that’s in good to fair condition from 80% in 2016 to 91% in 2019. He also said the percentage of time that Idaho highways are clear of snow and ice has gone up from 79% to 86%.
However, Ness said, more than half of the bridges in the state highway system by 2021 will be beyond their design life of 50 to 60 years.
“Our bridges have continued to deteriorate; our roads have continued to improve,” Ness told lawmakers on the budget-setting committee. “So we’ve been taking road money and putting that into bridges since 2010.”
Ness also said that that traffic on Interstate 84 since 2010 has increased 33% at Twin Falls and 50% near Nampa.
“Idaho’s rapid growth and unmet transportation needs are combining to affect safety, mobility and the movement of goods and services,” Ness said.
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