Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lawmakers foolish to scuttle solutions for traffic snarls

In the waning days of its 2007 session, Idaho's Legislature has developed a blueprint to turn traffic snarls into traffic nightmares.

The unnecessary damage lawmakers have done to the ability to move the state's explosive population around and between towns cannot be exaggerated.

First, legislators failed to find ways to fund comprehensive improvement and expansion of major highways. This is tantamount to voting for worsening traffic and crumbling roadways.

Second, lawmakers rejected a vital proposal to begin to allow communities to decide whether and how to impose local-option sales taxes to finance local public transit programs.

Today's lack of vision will result in far costlier, rushed solutions down the road when traffic problems become intolerable and legislators realize their terrible error.

The needs are obvious. Idaho is the nation's third fastest growing state. More people mean more vehicles on an aging and inadequate road system.

If urban traffic problems in Boise are horrendous, so, too, are traffic issues in the Wood River Valley, whose economy depends on a single crowded highway.

Faced with the bleak news that major funding for expansion of state Highway 75 won't be available, the only relief to the valley's choking traffic is an ambitious public transit system that would provide economical, convenient and regular commuter service to thousands of workers.

As the American Public Transportation Association reports, public transit ridership increased 2.9 percent last year because of more transit systems as well as higher costs of gasoline for cars. Salt Lake City, like other cities, is expanding its new bus and light-rail system to reach more users as part of that boom.

The Wood River Valley has the makings of a larger, more efficient transit system. However, what's lacking is local authority to apply local solutions with local-option tax funds—the tool that state lawmakers just scuttled.

This is penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking. Even as lawmakers try to waive tens of millions of dollars in personal property taxes on Idaho businesses, failing to encourage expansion of transit systems will slow movement on state roads and thus add costs to businesses as goods and services encounter delays.

The mobility of citizens on roadways that are safe and well maintained is essential for making Idaho a good place to live as well as do business.

The Idaho Legislature seems to be doing its best to work against that standard.

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