Kootenai County voters will decide in the November election if they want to raise vehicle registration fees to improve roads, including Interstate 90 and U.S. Highway 95.
The ballot measure asks voters to approve a $25 annual registration fee increase for motorcycles and terrain vehicles and a $50 annual increase for all vehicles that weigh less than 8,000 pounds. The increased fees would be collected between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2041.
The ballot measure states that the last major transportation improvements happened in the early 1970s and the regional “prosperity, growth and economic development” since then has led to the “inability to continue maintaining the safe and efficient movement of both people and goods in a reliable manner.”
Glenn Miles, executive director of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he was tasked with creating an update to the metropolitan transportation plan last year, which included an evaluation of the existing transportation network and what improvements would be needed over the next 20 years.
“We identified $1.8 billion in projects that are going to be needed in the next 20 years,” Miles said.
The problem is that there isn’t much money in local transportation budgets for capital projects, he said. In general, the county needs to pay up to 30% of the cost of each project to win state and federal grants to pay the other 70%.
“The local area needs to demonstrate that they have a commitment to the project and that means money,” Miles said.
The ballot measure lists 12 projects that increased fees would help pay for. They are: Huetter corridor, I-90 to U.S. 95; I-90, Stateline to Sherman Avenue widening; relocating the I-90 Port of Entry; Regional Traffic Management Center; Prairie Avenue, Meyer Road to state Highway 41; Pleasant View Road, Seltice Way to state Highway 53; Hayden Avenue, U.S. 95 to Huetter Road; state Highway 54, Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF underpass in Athol; Atlas Road, Seltice Road to Haley Avenue; Pole Line Avenue, state Highway 41 to Huetter Road; U.S. 95 Spokane River Bridge, Davidson to Upriver; Julia I-90 overpass, Ironwood to Apple Way.
“We wanted the projects identified in the ballot measure,” Miles said. “That’s where the money is going to go.”
The money raised would not be used to fund the 12 projects in their entirety. It would be used to cover the 30% in matching funds needed to qualify for grants, Miles said.
If the ballot measure passes, a loan would be obtained from the U.S. Department of Transportation so work could begin as soon as possible. The loan would be repaid with the annual revenue generated by the vehicle registration fee increase. “It’s just like a 20-year mortgage,” Miles said.
If the measure fails, Miles said the work won’t get done any time soon and the county would have to wait until limited capital project dollars become available. “There’s no Plan B because we have no other local options available,” he said.
Miles said that people he’s heard from are supportive of the needed transportation projects, but uncertain about using a vehicle registration fee to help pay for them. But he thinks the idea makes sense.
“If you were to raise the gas tax, you would pay more than $50 a year,” he said.
The proposal was placed on the ballot with the approval of the Kootenai County Commission.
“We put it on the ballot because we have the authority,” said commission Chairman Chris Fillios. “We didn’t opine on it. We just thought it was worthwhile to put before the voters.”
Fillios said he believes the county needs to address its transportation needs in order to continue economic growth and supports the ballot measure.
“I believe it’s essential for the infrastructure, but that’s just my opinion,” he said. “I’m not speaking for the board.”
He likes that control of the money raised from the fees will stay local.
“I don’t think it’s excessive,” he said. “I think it’s fair. The money will stay in Kootenai County.”
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