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A Seat in the House

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Issues for the Idaho Transportation Board

Each year the Idaho Transportation Board members and staff hold a regular board meeting and participate in a tour of specific district projects at each of the six transportation districts. The board tour and meeting in District 1 was held on July 9 and 10. On July 9 the board was in Priest River, Dover, Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry.

Idaho State Senator Keough and I accompanied the board members on this portion of their tour. Senator Broadsword was also at the Priest River portion of the tour. Senator Keough and I also attended the Board meeting held in Coeur D’Alene on July 10. Our purpose in accompanying the board members while in our area was to present our input and support for specific transportation projects in our legislative district.

Priest River Mayor Jim Martin met with the Board during their Priest River stop and discussed his city’s needs for projects in the Priest River area. The highest priority is expansion of the intersection of U.S. Highway 2 and State Highway 57. This intersection is a critical safety issue in that there is only a three lane turning radius for tractor-trailer units to negotiate the intersection and often times traffic is stalled during the period the trucks are negotiating the intersection. The turn is so tight that trucks have knocked down the crosswalk sign at least six times in the past three years.

Mayor Martin also expressed the need for the Department to help fund the West Bonner County Transportation Plan. It appears that Priest River may be annexing an area west of the town that will be experiencing significant growth and the area transportation plan will be an important document for the city and state to accommodate the increased highway traffic resulting from the development.

The Board met in Dover with Mayor Curless, Dover City Council members and staff who emphasized the need for starting the Dover Bridge Project on U.S. Highway 2 as soon as possible. U.S.2 is the major east-west route for northern Idaho and is an important commercial and recreation route. It is also a major route for emergency medical services, fire fighters, and law enforcement. Closure of the Dover Bridge would have a critical impact on public safety and commerce in our area.

The board expressed their support of the project, emphasizing that it was a high priority in transportation planning and that they were making every effort to obtain funding for the project.

The Board spent some time at the Sandpoint Byway site followed by a lunch stop at the Transportation Department’s Sandpoint maintenance facility. During this time the Sandpoint Resident Engineer provided information on the Byway project emphasizing the complexity of the project and its impact on cost.

The news media recently reported on the Board’s decision to approve the bid for the Byway construction, stating that not all board members were fully supportive of the project because of cost. I believe the explanation by the Resident Engineer resulted in greater support of the project by all board members, including those who had reservations when the bid was approved.

The Bonners Ferry portion of the tour included a meeting at the new Bonners Ferry visitor center and the Bonners Ferry Airport. City and county officials asked that the Department consider lowering speed limits on both the north and south state highway entrances to the city. They also expressed concern with highway access at the golf course south of Bonners Ferry and the access getting into and out of the community of Naples, stating that highway access at these areas were a primary safety concern because of visibility problems and speed limits that were to high for the area.

The Idaho Transportation Department also has an Aeronautics division that is involved in airport development throughout the state. In the board’s meeting at the Bonners Ferry Airport the airport manager emphasized the need for a longer runway and additional instrumentation as a result of greater air traffic at the airport and the heavier aircraft being served.

Many of the issues brought before the board members on the July 9 tour were also revisited during the formal board meeting on the following day. Delegations of elected officials and staff from Sandpoint, Dover, Rathdrum and the Bonner County Area Transportation Team provided presentations to the Board on the importance of transportation projects important to their jurisdiction.

Underlying the two-day visit to our district by the Idaho Transportation board and staff was the issue of transportation funding. All the projects discussed during the two days are important to our area; however the department has a significant funding crisis that needs to be solved.

The funding issue surfaced last year when the department and the Governor informed the legislature of a 240 million dollar deficit in meeting the maintenance needs of the state highway system. Because the legislature failed to act on the funding issue last session one of Governor Otter’s priorities for this summer is to develop an acceptable funding proposal for the legislature to consider in meeting the 240 million dollar deficit.

The Governor is sponsoring public meetings at six locations across the state to gather input and suggestions for ways to meet the shortfall.

Legislators are encouraged to attend all the meetings to hear first hand ideas for meeting the funding problem. I would also welcome input from River Journal readers and others on the funding issue since transportation funding will be a major issue in the upcoming session.

Please feel free to contact me on this issue or on any issues important to you. I can be reached by phone at 208-265-0123 or by mail at P.O. Box 112, Dover, 83825.

Thanks for reading! George

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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

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