Idaho road improvements

A recently improved intersection near the Sorrento Lactalis cheese factory in Nampa, Idaho. Gov. Brad Little will announce Jan. 11 a plan to improve the state's roads and bridges.

Randy Grant, who farms in the Eden-Hazelton area of south-central Idaho, sees road-repair needs everywhere he drives.

“As far as our products, we can get them moved,” said Grant, president of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association. “But our roads and bridges are in need of repair, no doubt about it — especially in rural areas, where they are less traveled by the general public and more for agricultural movement.”

Gov. Brad Little on Jan. 11 will propose a plan to tap part of the state’s $630 million budget surplus for transportation projects.

“When that sugar beet truck leaves a field and has to drive in some cases 10 to 20 miles to avoid a weight-restricted bridge, that is real money out of that farmer’s pocket,” said Wayne Hammon, CEO of the Idaho Associated General Contractors. “And we see it all over Idaho.”

Transportation-funding discussions often focus on roads lagging population gains in and around cities, “and there are needs there,” he said. “But when you get off the main network and onto these farm-to-market roads, it doesn’t take long to see Idaho’s transportation shortfall is every bit as much a rural issue as it is a suburban Boise issue.”

A 2020 Boise State University study found the state needs nearly $242 million more each year to maintain its roads and bridges.

The shortfall means that every year projects slip farther down the priority list, Hammon said.

Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said her district has 53 bridges that need repairs now or in the near future. She expects the Legislature’s Farm, Ranch and Timber Issues Caucus to discuss transportation needs.

The backlog includes state and local systems, said Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Any proposal we see from the governor and anything that is going to make it through the Legislature will serve rural communities,” she said.

“Hopefully if something comes out, it will include rural, local infrastructure as well,” said Clark Kauffman, the House Agricultural Affairs Committee chairman.

The Filer Republican, who is also a farmer, said local tax-base growth that lags road and bridge needs challenges many rural highway districts. He has served on the Filer Highway District and Local Highway Technical Assistance Council boards.

The council works with cities, counties and highway districts. It administers and awards funding from various sources.

Competition among cities of all sizes has increased given the needs, and demand exceeds the available funding, said Laila Kral, the council's deputy administrator.

Past one-time funding from the Legislature helped advance farm-to-market and other rural road projects in south-central Idaho, she said.

“We have seen really great impacts from those one-time projects,” Kral said.

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