Bringing Idaho together
by Senator Larry Craig
Did you know that it takes less time to drive from Coeur d’Alene to Seattle than it does to drive from Coeur d’Alene to Boise? Here’s another fact that many in North Idaho know quite well. The best route from North Idaho to the capital city goes through Washington and Oregon, not Idaho. Sure, the drive down U.S. 95 is more scenic. It’s also a lot more dangerous.
It seems that every Idahoan has a tale of some harrowing experience on an Idaho highway, whether the experience happened on one of the winding stretches of U.S. 95, Idaho 55 along the Payette River, or on the congested lanes of U.S. 20, north of St. Anthony. Some would argue that bad roads have become a signature part of life in our state, one of the flaws that we accept as a price for all the things we love about living here.
With the U.S. Senate’s approval of H.R. 3, the Highway bill, we are one step closer to changing that. And if the House-Senate conference leaves the Senate version mostly intact, 2005 may well go down in history as the year in which Idaho turned a corner with respect to its highway infrastructure. In addition to H.R. 3, Governor Kempthorne showed a great deal of leadership earlier this year in identifying new opportunities to responsibly fund highway maintenance and construction projects and guiding his proposal through the Idaho Legislature. These two factors will combine to change transportation throughout the State.
I believe the Governor’s GARVEE bonding authority will be a great way to accelerate high-priority road building and improvement projects across the state, while keeping construction costs down. At the same time, the State won’t have to break the bank to carry out thirty years’ worth of projects in just ten.
All this comes at a time when Idaho is growing very rapidly, both in terms of economy and population. Growth presents challenges, as we are learning. Our neighbors to the west, in Oregon and Washington, provide important lessons. The major population centers in those two states, Portland and the cities around the Puget Sound, have not been keeping up with the transportation needs of these growing metropolitan areas, and the gridlock is beginning to affect their economies in very negative ways.
Highways are critical to moving people and products all across our State. When those people and products spend time in congested traffic, productivity drops. So does fuel efficiency and environmental integrity. But the cost goes far beyond dollars and cents. Overcrowded highways and winding, narrow roads can be dangerous, and, as too many Idahoans know, deadly.
That is why I supported the Highway bill. This legislation contains a formula for distributing federal highway dollars between the 50 states, and it treats those states with low-population densities fairly. Idaho will see a solid increase in highway dollars over the lifespan of the bill. These federal highway dollars are exactly what the Governor was talking about when he pitched the GARVEE bond proposal to the legislature.
Senator Crapo and I also succeeded in amending the Highway bill to designate U.S. 95 a high-priority, multi-state corridor. This designation makes Highway 95 eligible for additional funds in the future. Idahoans who have traveled this route know how much improvements are needed, and I have continuously worked over the years to make it a better road.
H.R. 3 accomplishes these benefits. I could not support the late amendments which increased the total cost of the legislation while we continue to get our deficit under control, but I felt the positive aspects of the overall bill for Idaho warranted my support.
Idaho is a large state. There are vast distances to cover when traveling by car or hauling freight, and they aren’t “easy drives.” However, because of the Highway bill and GARVEE bonding, some will soon be safer and easier, and Idahoans will soon be closer together.
I’ll keep working to improve our roads, so that the best way to travel in Idaho doesn’t mean driving through other states.