Those of us who build and maintain Idaho’s vital transportation network agree whole-heartedly with Governor Little who stated during his annual State of the State address on Monday, “One thing I consistently hear about is our transportation system. In a growing state, we must move people and products as safely and efficiently as possible.”
Idaho has a bright future, and the promise of continued success relies on all of us being willing to make investments in the infrastructure necessary to meet the challenges awaiting us in the years and decades ahead. That is why the Idaho Associated General Contractors has brought together public and private stakeholders from across the state to fund the study on the needs of Idaho’s transportation system that the Governor highlighted on Monday. The study is being conducted by non-partisan researchers at the Idaho Public Policy Institute at Boise State University and should be completed in June.
There are two essential points to keep in mind while we wait for the study’s findings.
The first is that our transportation needs are not just a growth issue. Sure, Idaho’s continued growth in both population and industry has added congestion to our transportation system. But as we learned from the Governor’s Transportation Task Force that Governor Little led a decade ago, Idaho’s roads and bridges at both the state and local level were in need of repair, replacement, and expansion long before the state made any magazine’s top ten list.
We agree with those from all across Idaho that believe that “growth should pay for itself.” Yet those of us fortunate enough to have called Idaho home for longer must also be willing to bear our share of the burden.
The second point is that Idaho will need new and improved approaches to change the outcome. Much has been made since the Governor’s speech on Monday of the “close to $100 million” that the 2021 budget recommendation includes “to maintain and improve the state’s highway system.” We appreciate Governor Little highlighting these dollars. Doing so is a clear signal of his commitment to keeping transportation funding top of mind and demonstrates that road improvements will continue in the short term. These funds are important and we urge JFAC to act favorably on the request.
The $99.7 million included in the Governor’s budget is spending authority for federal and dedicated funds. It is not new money nor is it the solution to our transportation problem. If approved by the Legislature, this line item will allow ITD and local entities to complete more roadwork next year and sets the state for the Legislature to address the long-term needs of the system in the future. Doing so will necessitate tough decisions in the years to come.
Once the study is complete, the AGC looks forward to working with Governor Little, members of the Legislature, and stakeholders large and small throughout the state to review options for a long-term strategy on this important subject. While no decisions have been made as to what combination of funding options will be presented to the Legislature in 2021, one thing is clear: Idaho’s transportation network will need a significant, continual investment of funds if it is going to carry us into the bright future awaiting us.
Bob Von Lintig is the vice president of operations at Western Construction in Boise. An employee-owned company, Western is a heavy civil contractor that operates across all of southern Idaho. He was elected president of the Idaho AGC in December 2019.
Wayne Hammon is the CEO of the Idaho AGC. Prior to his work at the association, he served as the administrator of the Idaho Division of Financial Management, the state’s budget office. He can be reached at email@example.com.