Gov. Little pitches transportation plan to local communities

ATHOL, Idaho — As the Idaho Legislature remains closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Brad Little has been taking the time to tour the state pitching his plan for a transportation package.

“The most precious commodity anybody has is their time. If you can save every individual 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 minutes a day, that’s time they can spend with their families, that’s time they can spend at work,” he told a group of reporters Monday morning in Athol.

Governor Little calls his plan vital as Idaho continues to grow. This plan also includes expanding a portion of I-90 into six lanes. All in all there are about 20 projects that need funding, and a lot of it.

“I can tell you not planning for growth is worse than planning for growth and that’s why you have to do this,” said Gov. Little.

The Governor calls these projects ‘major unfunded transportation needs’ in the state. The 15 mile stretch between the Washington State border and Coeur d’Alene gets busier and busier as the decades pass.

In 1999 there were 39,640 vehicles that drove on that section of the road each day. By 2009 it was up to 47,700 and just two years ago in 2019 it was 57,940.

“I see the smart investments in smart growth and transportation as a way to assure that our kids will stay here and they’ll choose to stay here,” said Little.

The price tag for this single project could be up to $775 million to complete, and there are questions about about how this will be funded. The Governor is asking the legislature for $80 million a year to complete most of the projects. Even though in Kootenai County voters rejected a $50 vehicle registration fee last year, that would have funded a dozen local projects.

“I see this as kind of the anchor tenant, the $80 million a year, and then what local communities do… and then there’s going to be some money from the federal government,” said Little. “The one thing I do know is if we don’t have a sustainable supply of money from the state… we’re not going to be where we want to go.”

Governor Little hopes he can get the funding he needs when the legislature begins again next week.