Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Bonds could speed up Highway 75 by 'decades'

Express Staff Writer

Even in mostly-Democratic Blaine County, Idaho Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has hit on something for which traditional political critics can thank him.

The governor's proposal to float a massive bond issue for an ambitious statewide road-building project could speed up expansion and improvement of state Highway 75 by "decades," according to Devin Rigby, the Idaho Transportation Department's District 4 engineer.

Under Kempthorne's plan, so-called GARVEE bonds—Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle—would allow construction work to begin immediately and proceed without waiting for annual funding handouts from the Federal Highway Administration. In other words, the funds would not be "dribbled out" over the years, ITD district environmental planner Chuck Carnahan told the Blaine County Transportation Committee at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The planned construction schedule for the Highway 75 stretch from the Timmerman Junction at U.S. 20, west of Picabo, to Saddle Road in Ketchum is 10 to 15 years.

But if Kempthorne's $1.6 billion GARVEE bonding plan succeeds, money would be instantly available for year-round work that would be delayed only by weather, Carnahan said. Bonds would be retired with federal funds normally allocated annually.

Rigby estimated the project could be completed in three years instead of 10 to 15.

Most of the governor's proposed bonding would be devoted to improving highways stretching from the northern tip of the state to the southern tip, a program he envisions as "connecting Idaho," Kempthorne said in his State of the State speech.

Anticipating criticism of bonding, Kempthorne said that Idaho has used road bonding seven times, beginning in 1890.

Meanwhile, Carnahan said, the Highway 75 project is undergoing its second federal review, with a decision and approval expected late this year. Accumulated paperwork is now six inches deep, he said.

In other matters at the transportation committee meeting:

· Rigby dispelled rumors that the Transportation Department was planning to sell off railroad right of way in Blaine County. The only such project involves a block of ITD land near Main and Gannett Road once used for railroad support that might be sold to the city of Bellevue.

· Members decided to expand the group from 10 to 18 members representing various Blaine County governments and civic groups, and to require minimum attendance to avoid being dropped.

· Blaine County School District transportation supervisor Rex Squires said he would like to see biodiesel fuel—a combination of pure diesel and household cooking oils—used widely, but commercial service stations have been reluctant to stock it for lack of consumer interest.

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