Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Transportation Board held a hearing in Boise last week to talk about the sorry state of our roads and bridges. They made a very good case for the need for additional revenues, and the incredible complexity of solving a funding gap that seems to be growing by the day. (We all learned, for example, that liquid asphalt rose in price from $175 to $1,000 per ton between last December and this July.) But state officials still seem to be resisting the idea that better transit must be a major part of any plan to relieve pressure on Idaho roads and bridges.
I didn't make it to the morning portion of the meeting, though Sharon Fisher of New West did, and she recounts it here. Apparently John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, advocated for a proposal called Fight Gridlock Now that includes transit as part of the solution. And I was only able to stay for about an hour of the late-afternoon hearing, at which point no public testimony had yet been taken.
Idaho has not raised its fuel tax since 1996, and vehicle registration fees have been flat since 1997. It's probably past time to raise both, but the state ought to consider curbing registration increases for people who drive fuel-efficient vehicles (who are already saving at the pump) and/or who hold their mileage below certain levels. Higher registration fees and fuel taxes would also give people additional incentives to explore transit, telecommuting, carpooling, and other options that will lessen the wear and tear on our roads, bridges, and lungs. And because fewer miles driven also means lower fuel tax collections, the state must also consider tolls on some roads and bridges.
Of course, all of this may fall flat in Idaho's rabidly anti-tax legislature, but fee increases - coupled with conservation incentives - are the only way we'll be able to fund safe roads and bridges in our state. This fall, candidates need to be asked how they'd fund road and bridge upkeep *and* how they'll make transit part of the solution.