Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Highway 75: a setback with opportunities

Actions and events far removed from the Wood River Valley have conspired to zap the $100 million-plus promised for widening and improving state Highway 75, the spine of the growing valley and the lifeline for thousands of workers commuting from home to office.

But rather than stewing and hoping for an angel with a magic wand to come along, valley communities must transform a setback into new opportunities.

With only a fraction of the original promised funding available, officials of Blaine County, valley cities and the Idaho Transportation Department should team up to cooperatively decide which sections of Highway 75 need immediate improvement to ease traffic congestion and eliminate engineering hazards.

A toll road, as suggested last week in a meeting of countywide transportation officials, is not an acceptable solution for commuters already strained by the high cost of valley housing.

The merger of the KART/PEAK transit system and the Rideshare program should be accelerated and promoted to increase public bus ridership and car-pooling to reduce congestion. Improved scheduling and exploiting worsening congestion will be incentives for many commuters to give up their cars.

While local forces make the best of the situation, public and private figures who know their way around Washington, D.C., and the Idaho Capitol should try to persuade state and federal authorities to do better in funding improvement of the vital roadway. Highway 75 improvement is not a beauty project—it's a matter of life and death for commuters.

Average drivers should mount their criticisms to Idaho's congressional delegation about imprudent Washington ways that have shrunk available highway funds. The targets are many: federal budget deficits as far as the eye can see created by the war in Iraq, unnecessary and large tax cuts for the nation's wealthy, and lawmakers ladling out public funds for questionable projects.

Even the ultimate pain of an increased gasoline tax may be on the list of solutions.

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