Monday, December 11, 2023

OPINION: Politics to potholes

by JIM COLEMAN/Guest Opinion
| May 3, 2023 1:00 AM

Roads should not be political, but potholes are a sure sign politics has impacted the operation and maintenance of our roads and highways. A political candidate who blindly promises they are running for Highway District Commission to; “Cut Taxes, “Cut Costs” or “Improve Efficiency” is really telling you; “There are a lot of potholes in your future.” Let me explain….

Potholes are a sign of deferred or neglected maintenance. Without timely and appropriate maintenance, roads decay. A crack becomes a hole, and the hole becomes a pothole. Kootenai County has the luxury of well-run Highway Districts that understand the importance of road maintenance.

When funding is cut or does not keep up with costs, one of two things must occur, reduced operations or reduced maintenance. The highway commissioners must choose between not plowing snow (operations) or not maintaining the roads.

We all know what the commissioners will likely choose, especially the politician, because operations are immediate (reelection) and maintenance is ‘down-the-road’ (pun intended).

Local roads are needed for so many things that we take for granted that actually makes our community livable. Well-maintained local roads are needed for:

• getting to and from work and schools,

• deliver products (last mile) to stores, factories, businesses,

• move products from factories, farms and ranches to market,

• providing access for first responders and emergency services, and

• just a way to get to friends and neighbors.

Without safe and adequate roads, our community and local economy would not exist.

If your roof leaks, do you wait until the house is a total loss or fix the roof? If roads are not maintained and allowed to fail, the cost to replace the road is 5 to 10 times the cost of the periodic maintenance. We need experienced and qualified Highway District Commissioners to set priorities to spend those tax dollars wisely.

Local highway districts do not get enough funding from state and federal highway use funds (gas tax) to adequately fund operation and maintenance of our public road systems. Local property tax is the only additional source of funding available to local highway districts to adequately fund road maintenance. Highway districts need the experienced and common sense leadership, not politicians, to set priorities and standards to maintain our roads with the funds available.

Growth is happening. When a new development is constructed, the development is required to construct and pay for the infrastructure associated with the development. In all highway districts, the development is required to mitigate the safety and capacity impacts on the existing roads. Growth has also allowed many of the districts to reduce or hold the property tax burden on existing homes. We are not going to stop growth, but it can be done with less impact if we have commissioners that understand the process and hold the line on infrastructure quality for new developments.

The Citizens of the Lakes Highway District, Post Falls Highway District and Worley Highway District can elect candidates who are local and have the experience and qualifications to understand how important it is to spend your tax money wisely. Any candidate that says, ‘I will reduce taxes’ is pandering and asking you to sacrifice higher future costs for reasonable costs today.

Don’t believe the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee (KCRCC) ‘endorsed’ candidates. “Cutting cost” or “cutting taxes” might sound good to limit government spending. For roads, highways and bridges cutting costs is akin to deficit spending.

Politics will get you potholes.

• • •

Jim Coleman, P.E., Civil Engineer and past member, Idaho Transportations Board, Appointed 2007 to 2019, Rotarian and founding member of North Idaho Republicans.

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