Idaho governor releases major roadwork plan

| Monday, January 17, 2005

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is thinking big when it comes to improving the state’s transportation system.

During his State of the State Address Jan. 10, he unveiled his plan to link regions of the state now isolated from one another. He dubbed the massive project “Connecting Idaho.”

His goal is to bring the north and south together with a four-lane highway stretching from the Canadian border to the Treasure Valley.

Kempthorne proposed spending $1.6 billion to fund roadwork with grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds.

This federal program allows the state to sell bonds to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows the state to get money needed for the project up front.

The plan’s supporters say that makes the governor’s goal of building a north-south route feasible in a decade instead of 30 years.

The Idaho Legislature would have to approve those bonds. But even if it does, many say they’re concerned that the federal money the state plans to use to repay the debt will dry up.

“That’s spending before you have the money,” Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, told The Pocatello Idaho State Journal. “If something happens and the money doesn’t come, you’re in a predicament.”

“I have a reservation about spending (that type of money.)”

If approved, the largest segment would be a new 56-mile stretch of four-lane highway from Interstate 84 between Nampa and Meridian to Central Idaho. It would provide a new, much-improved route from the Treasure Valley to McCall and North Idaho cities.

Legislation to allow funding through GARVEE bonds for construction will be introduced during the session that began Jan. 10.