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Transport bill a big step down the road

| May 12, 2021 1:00 AM

The 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature might go down as one of the least productive in the state's history.

But it hasn't been a total waste.

On Monday, Gov. Brad Little signed into law House Bill 362, which he calls his "sustainable transportation funding solution."

While the bill directs $80 million in ongoing funding, its greater value is that it allows the state to bond for up to $1.6 billion. That money can go for all sorts of work, including roads and bridges, across the state.

"It is the single largest state investment in transportation infrastructure in Idaho history," a press release from the governor's office proudly proclaimed.

And rightly so. Not only is our transportation infrastructure seriously neglected — thank you, past legislatures — but with Idaho growing faster than any other state, infrastructure impacts here will only increase exponentially.

Gov. Little also notes that this big step forward is being done without a tax increase or fees.

While we applaud this important bill addressing the governor's intent to boost commerce while keeping citizens safe, we urge caution in managing expectations.

Even with $126 million in one-time funds from Gov. Little's "Building Idaho's Future" plan, residents won't see substantial improvements overnight. Part of that is because planning is a long and arduous process; part is that competition for funding is fierce, with a population center down south at a big advantage; and part is that transportation infrastructure does not come cheap.

Just to repave a two-lane highway is estimated to cost at least $1 million per mile. And has anybody noticed that it's hard to find workers these days?

Kootenai County is officially flooded with vehicular traffic, and you can get your heart beating fast by recognizing that full-out tourist season hasn't even started yet. In short, things are likely to get worse before you see them getting better.

While HB 362 is urgently needed and cause for celebration, nothing short of legislation like this plus a significant increase in gas tax and a user fee tied to vehicles is likely to make a dramatic difference in a hurry.

And we know from recent history that ain't gonna happen.