Idaho governor introduces his highway effort

| Friday, March 11, 2005

Almost two months after pitching the $1.6 billion proposal to Idaho state lawmakers, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has introduced a bill that would authorize some of the most expensive road projects in the state’s history.

The plan would allow Idaho to fund roadwork with grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds. It will get a public hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The massive project, dubbed “Connecting Idaho,” designates the same projects Kempthorne outlined during his State of the State Address in January. The plan would link regions of the state now isolated from one another.

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

The bill – SB1167 – also requires the Idaho Transportation Department to list which projects it would like to bond for, and how much they’ll cost.

The funding program allows the state to borrow money against the federal transportation dollars that come each year 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.

Lawmakers are required to authorize those bonds. But even if they do, 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.