Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Roadways plan will get further review

County eyes ways to fund improvements


    Blaine County commissioners and staff on Tuesday explored consultants’ research into how much funding is needed to maintain and even improve county roads.
    County Operations Director Char Nelson and consultants with Keller Associates presented the county’s transportation plan. Nelson said the plan was funded by a grant from the Idaho Transportation Department and is key to getting other grant funds for specific road projects in the near future.
    Commissioners Tom Bowman and Larry Schoen agreed that the plan has a misleading title since the materials presented are mostly about road and bridge quality and maintenance proposals rather than about transportation specifically.
    However, they did find it to be a valuable planning document because it helps Road and Bridge staff to evaluate the condition of infrastructure over time and guide maintenance priorities.
    Commissioners will review the plan again on Sept. 24. The county is expected to adopt the plan by the end of the month, as it is required to help county officials apply for any available federal funds for road improvements.
    Nelson said there is a looming deadline for federal grant applications for the upcoming funding cycle. One recent federal grant paid for improvements to East Fork Road, which now has extended bike lanes.
    County commissioners agreed Tuesday with some public comments that the county also should find a way to promote and expand its transportation infrastructure and to include alternative modes like bicycles and mass transit. The presented plan also makes the recommendation.
    The plan presented Tuesday laid out which roads are in most need of repair—and how much money will be needed to fix them. A price tag of $1.4 million each for asphalt and gravel roads per year was suggested, based on the study. The fact that the figure was the same for the different road types was coincidental, consultants said.
    The plan points to West Glendale Road, Gannett Road, Croy Creek Road, East Fork Road and Buttercup Road as the top five roadways in need of improvements. It states that safety concerns were paramount in choosing West Glendale, Gannett and Croy Creek roads as the roads with “top priority,” meaning they will be repaired as soon as funding is available.
    Nelson said the safety concerns are determined through crash data, excluding traffic accidents from drunk drivers or other outside influences.
    Referring to Gannett Road, Nelson said, “If you have a distracted driver, and because we have a narrow shoulder, there is no time to recorrect.”
    West Glendale and Gannett roads are slated for pavement overlays to smooth the surface. Gannett Road would also be widened and get a bike lane.
    Nelson said that the Road and Bridge Department is funded at $1.6 million per year. She said full funding for an annual improvement plan as well as maintenance and equipment replacement would run roughly $6.2 million.
    She said the major problem is that Blaine County’s Road and Bridge Department is mainly funded through the state gas tax. As the costs of labor and materials are rising, the amount of revenue from the gas tax is falling.
    “People are traveling less and buying more efficient cars,” she said. “That’s a good thing, but not for us.”
    The report states that of 33 counties, 180 cities and 58 highway districts in Idaho surveyed in 2011, only 10 of those jurisdictions did not receive any local funding.
    The report suggests that creating a highway district and establishing a levy for that district could be one way of funding the plan, but also suggests that roughly $724,000 could be raised annually by increasing motor-vehicle registration fees from an average of $35 to $65.

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