Idaho laws ensure more money for roads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/15/2014

Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law a pair of bills that provide some new money for Idaho roads and ensure the state doesn’t lose out on some federal highway funds.

One new law taps into cigarette tax revenue to pay off $130 million in bonds on the statehouse renovation. Once the project is paid in full, revenue from the state’s 56-cent-per-pack tax will be applied to road work. Some funds from the $40 million yearly tax collection will also be applied to water projects.

Previously HB547, the new law will result in $4.7 million annually through 2030 to retire bonds from the “Connecting Idaho” highway construction program.

First approved in 2006 by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the program uses grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds, to pay for road work.

The funding program allows the state to borrow money against the annual federal transportation funding designated 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.

The new law also authorizes another $15 million to be used over two years to address the state’s backlog of road work. Idaho transportation officials estimate the state has an annual $262 million maintenance backlog.

Another new law brings a truck definition in line with federal rules.

SB1305 changes the definition of the tank endorsement and clarifies the tank vehicle definition. Enactment ensures compliance with federal regulations.

Failure to make the changes could have resulted in Idaho losing out on 4 percent, or $9.6 million, of federal highway funds the first year. Withholdings double to 8 percent, or $19.2 million, each year thereafter until compliance is achieved.

A separate bill that came up short of advancing to the governor’s desk sought to give truckers a break from weight restrictions during periods when snow and ice accumulate on roadways in the state.

HB493 provided an allowable excess weight provision of 2,000 pounds for “the inadvertent accumulation of mud, snow, water of other such substance” over the allowable loaded gross weight of the vehicle, or combination of vehicles.

Idaho law already makes the weight exception available for farm loads.

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said there are many instances where it is unsafe to remove the excess accumulation prior to crossing a scale facility.

The bill passed the House and Senate, but the chambers weren’t able to agree to changes before the session ended, effectively killing it for the year.