Planning ahead for tomorrow’s roads, highways

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Thank you, Idaho Transportation Department.

Thanks for the dramatic improvements to roads and highways throughout our region. Now that the summer road construction season is winding down, motorists can simply enjoy the fruits of your labor on I-90, U.S. 95 and elsewhere.

That gives everybody at least a little time before posing the next question, which of course is: ITD, what have you done for me lately?

With transportation infrastructure an estimated $407 million behind in maintenance and needed safety measures, ITD is in a tough spot. Itís not for lack of wanting to do more for motorists; itís the reality of using funding as wisely as possible, revising long- and short-term plans, and knowing it could do a lot more work with more money.

Calling for tax increases is never a popular exercise, but sometimes there is no alternative. Replacing worn out infrastructure to improve safety and to stimulate economic development, which in the long term lowers individualsí taxes, is every bit as necessary as it is unsavory to those who have to pay for it.

Donít expect the 2020 Idaho Legislature to take up this issue, either. Itís an election year, and if recommended tax increases arenít ever popular, theyíre particularly prickly when the folks representing you are asking for your vote.

So this editorial is intended to plant a seed for 2021. Thatís when the Legislature should approve a gas tax increase to help address the precarious state of the roads and bridges traversed by almost every single Idahoan. Property taxes should not be touched.

This is not a call made lightly. It will take political courage, but it very well could save lives.

The Legislature approved a 7 cents per gallon gas tax increase in 2015. From every gallon of gas you buy in Idaho, 32 cents goes to the state. Before 2015, the last gas tax hike was way back in 1996. Again, itís not a step taken lightly, or frequently.

The reason a gas tax makes the most sense is because it comes directly from those who use these roads, highways and bridges the most. Itís their use that increases the need for maintenance.

Because so much gas is consumed in Idaho, a hike of a penny a gallon generates about $10 million. Increasing the gas tax a dime would go a long way toward netting sufficient funds for ITD to do what needs to be done, raising an estimated $100 million annually for critically needed road work.

Deferred maintenance canít be held off indefinitely. Thanks to a modest gas tax increase four years ago weíre better off than we were, but when it comes to real driver safety, weíve still got miles to go.

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