'Connecting Idaho' plan faces downsizing

| 10/10/2006

Credit-rating agencies and bond advisers in Idaho say the state should scale back its “Connecting Idaho” road-building expectations. They’re concerned that the state could lose its strong bond rating if officials ask for too much money.

The state was looking to sell about $1.2 billion worth of grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds, but that number will likely be reevaluated, The Associated Press reported.

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 up front.

Gov. Jim Risch’s chief of staff, John Sandy, said the top ceiling now is going to be $998 million to finance the largest public works project in Idaho’s history. The revised amount is about one-third of what the state has been authorized to borrow, The AP reported.

As talks continue, the cost of roadwork associated with “Connecting Idaho” continues to escalate. The cost of six projects now in the works has increased to about $1.6 billion, up $400 million from the original amount.

The end result is that the state likely won’t have enough money from bond sales to complete those projects, including two on Interstate 84 in the Treasure Valley.

The Idaho Transportation Board is expected to discuss the matter at its Tuesday, Oct. 17, meeting.