Revised 'Connecting Idaho' plan is approved

| Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Idaho Transportation Board has approved spending nearly $1 billion to finance the largest public works project in the state's history. The amount is about one-third less than originally planned because of rising construction costs.

"This investment will dramatically improve safety, reduce congestion and create jobs," Frank Bruneel, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board, said in a written statement. "The plan addresses the most immediate needs on each of the corridors while keeping within the budget we have."

The price tag of the highway corridor projects has increased to about $1.6 billion, up from about $1.2 billion approved a year ago.

Costs associated with building materials, including asphalt, concrete and steel, were cited for the $400 million increase. Also playing a part in the increased costs is the competition for labor and materials for construction projects around the nation, specifically in the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The building boom in China also is playing a part in higher costs.

Meanwhile, credit-rating agencies and bond advisers in Idaho recommended that the state scale back its "Connecting Idaho" road-building expectations to just under $1 billion. They're concerned that the state could lose its strong bond rating if officials ask for too much money.

The improvements will be paid for by borrowing against federal funds that the state is to receive.

"We had to make some difficult tradeoffs and reduce the scope of the projects," Bruneel said. "Soaring construction and lands costs have limited what we can do. But we are still addressing the most important and needed elements of the projects."

The Idaho Legislature will make final decisions on how to spend the money during the regular session that begins in January 2007.

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