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Kootenai County voters overwhelmingly reject local fee for road projects

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 4, 2020

A project to transform Huetter Road, photographed looking north near Mullan Road in October, into a depressed highway-style bypass would have been funded with a local vehicle registration fee that voters overwhelmingly rejected on Election Day.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
A project to transform Huetter Road, photographed looking north near Mullan Road in October, into a depressed highway-style bypass would have been funded with a local vehicle registration fee that voters overwhelmingly rejected on Election Day. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

By a two-to-one margin, Kootenai County voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have imposed a local vehicle registration fee to pay for a slate of transportation projects to improve and expand the overwhelmed area road network.

Nearly 67% of voters – or 56,301 – voted no to self-impose a $50 annual fee for cars, while 33% backed the proposal.

Officials from the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, which coordinates transit planning in the county, backed the proposal, which would have partially funded a dozen projects over the next two decades.

The fee was designed to raise about 30% of the $1.8 billion cost of building a new highway-style bypass along what is now Huetter Road, widening Intestate 90 from Stateline to Sherman Avenue, creating a regional traffic management center and improving sections of state highways 41, 53 and 54, as well as U.S. Highway 95, among other projects.

Glenn Miles, executive director of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, told The Spokesman-Review in October that the 30% buy-in for the cost of each project would help the county win state and federal grants to pay the other 70%.

Miles also told The Spokesman-Review that the slate of new work was necessary both to catch up with a backlog of road work building up since the 1970s and to prepare for population growth over the next 20 years.

By 2040, the county’s population is expected to top 300,000, according to the organization. The population was about 60,000 in 1980 and 150,000 in 2017.

Despite the need, Miles said Wednesday he was “not surprised” by the voters’ decision and cast doubt on the prospect of funding the necessary money from other sources.

“At the time, there are no other alternatives for funding,” Miles said. “So those projects, for at least the foreseeable future, will be planned but unfunded projects.”

Meanwhile, however, Idaho Transportation Department has begun work on a suite of projects on its system in the county, including creating a new interchange at state Highway 53 and U.S. Highway 95, which is on the brink of being complete; rebuilding state Highway 41, which is underway; and reconstructing the interchange connecting I-90 and Highway 41 a few years out.

But Miles said that work won’t be enough.

“Those are short-term remedies,” he said. “But they don’t address the underlying problems that are presenting themselves in Kootenai County.”

And area drivers will see the result, Miles predicted.

“Things will continue to get more congested,” he said. “Traffic will continue to increase. And I suspect that frustrations will continue to grow.”

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