With a busted bank account, the Idaho Transportation Board is looking to borrow $162 million for projects to make it easier to motor between Boise and Canyon County and around north Idaho.
About half the money the board is requesting of the Legislature in 2011 through the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) program would pay for construction of a new section of Idaho 16 between State Street and Chinden Boulevard in Boise, including a bridge crossing the Boise River; the project is part of a plan to eventually connect Highway 16 with Interstate 84. An $80 million widening of 12 miles of U.S. 95 from Chilco to Granite in north Idaho is also included in the latest request.
“As western Ada County and eastern Canyon County develop, the ability to move traffic north and south is critical to the area’s economic development,” said transportation board Chairman Darrell Manning.
GARVEE funding is requested annually; the first legislative authorization of $200 million came in 2006. The funds can be spent on six corridors: U.S. 95 from Garwood to Sagle, U.S. 95 from Worley to Setters, I-84 from Caldwell to Meridian, I-84 from Orchard to Isaacs Canyon, Idaho 16 from I-84 to South Emmett, and U.S. 30 from McCammon to Soda Springs. For its upfront GARVEE spending, the state expects to pay back $60 million a year for the next 20 years. Under the GARVEE program, the state sells bonds with the backing of funds anticipated to come in from the federal government in the future. The requested $162 million for 2011 is supposed to be the last GARVEE draw and bring to $855 million the total amount brought in through the program since being approved by the Legislature in 2006.
While lawmakers have overwhelmingly supported GARVEE, some, including Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, have maintained from the start that spending money before it’s in hand is a bad move.
“It’s going into debt,” Palmer said. “I don’t vote for debt.”
Palmer also said the state shouldn’t expand its highway system until it can maintain what’s already in place. The Idaho Transportation Department says it needs $240 million more per year to keep up with maintenance. Palmer said he will vote against the 2011 GARVEE request.
To Palmer and others on the same page, Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, sponsor of the GARVEE legislation, says 70,000 motorists who drive from Canyon County to Ada County everyday are glad for the program.
“If we didn’t have the GARVEE program we’d have virtually no road construction going on,” McGee said. Besides improving traffic flow, “it has produced thousands of jobs in a bad economy,” he said.