One of the many memories I remember from my childhood involved a fatal car accident in which the driver died after a large piece of concrete from a highway overpass literally fell from the bridge and crushed the car. To this day, I cringe just a little anytime I drive beneath one because part of me is convinced that part of the bridge is going to break away just as I drive underneath.
This is one of the reasons why I feel so strongly regarding the need to keep our roads and highways safe and well maintained. While I understand that the costs involved are pretty steep, I've seen how high that cost can get in terms of human life.
Right now, our state lawmakers are debating plans whether to increase funding to maintain roads across Idaho. Many of these highways and other infrastructure are simply falling apart with proposed bills coming nowhere close to making up the $262 million shortfall to make needed improvements.
And that's still below the $281 million the state really needs each year to make all of these repairs. But everything on the table that I've seen to date that's come out of the state capitol has either fallen apart or won't generate the needed revenue.
A proposal introduced earlier this month would only raise an additional $70 to $100 million, some of which would've come from a five-cent tax hike for every gallon of fuel sold in this state. Pulling more from the state's general fund was expected to generate just $12 million more.
Here's what really bothers me. The problem with the state highways didn't just happen overnight.
Lawmakers in this state have debated it since 2010 when a task force unveiled the $262 million yearly shortfall. That same task force also came up with the $281 million figure to make our roads safe.
So after five years, our lawmakers haven't really made any progress to address the issue. From my vantage point, it seems like they want to push the funding problem off and make it someone else's problem.
But let's take a minute to see what our legislators have spent the past few weeks dealing with during this current term. So far, they've argued about teacher salaries and (I hope) corrected a major problem with funding broadband services in our public schools.
But at the same time, they've squandered a considerable amount of time debating issues that really don't affect a lot of state residents. They worried about teenagers and tanning beds, argued over "instant racing machines" at horse race tracks and pushed to expand concealed weapons permits. They even batted around the issue of approving the use of marijuana extract oils for medical purposes.
The funny thing is the state Senate narrowly passed a bill the other day that could allow driverless cars on state roadways. Whether those roads will actually be driveable is anyone's guess.
At this point, I can't see the road issue (pardon the pun) gaining any traction during the current legislative session. Once again, I see our lawmakers hurrying to adjourn and head back to their home districts without a workable budget to get our roads and highways the attention they desperately need.
If the state waits any longer, we're going to see these roads continue to deteriorate to the point where more extensive (and more expensive) repairs became necessary. So instead of tackling the issue now, I fear that the final bill we'll receive will simply skyrocket, especially if something serious happens to a road or, God forbid, a bridge.
Here's something else I want to stress to our lawmakers: When you finally get around to passing a transportation funding bill, you need to ensure that it extends well beyond the Treasure Valley. While I understand that a majority of state residents live between Boise and Caldwell, the highway issue doesn't end on the interstate at milepost 74. We need that funding to stretch beyond Pocatello to reach areas like Dubois and Spencer as well as Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene.
Some of our lawmakers have made it clear that they intend to adjourn by March 27, or just nine days from today. From my perspective, that gives them just enough time to put a workable bill on the governor's desk that gives our highway crews the money they need to get our streets up to speed.
To pass the buck once again is simply not acceptable.
-- Brian S. Orban