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Sunday, August 26, 2012

$180 Million. Where did all that money come from...and what does it mean for you?


If you’ve been tracking transportation issues in the news, chances are you’ve heard that the Idaho Transportation Board voted in July to “expedite” approximately $180 million in road construction projects in the next five years, including four projects in the Treasure Valley – reconstructing I-84 interchanges at Meridian Road, Broadway Avenue, and Gowen Road, and restoring four miles of pavement along I-84 between Meridian Road and Five Mile Road.

While most people I’ve talked to seem to be thrilled with the possibility of these projects, they also have a lot of questions: What exactly does “expediting” projects mean?  Where did all of the money come from? What does this mean to me?

I’ll try to tackle these here.

First, what does it mean to “expedite” a project? “Expediting” simply means that the projects will be built sooner than previously planned. For example, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) had planned to restore four miles of pavement on Interstate 84 between the Meridian Road Interchange and Five Mile Road in 2016, but now that project has been expedited and will occur in late 2012. ITD had not planned to reconstruct any more interchanges on I-84 in the foreseeable future; now they are proposing to do three in the next few years.

Second, where did all that money come from? ITD had said it didn’t have any money for these types of road projects. What happened? $180 million dollars is a lot of money to simply “appear” out of nowhere.

Many factors come into play. This is one case where the “great recession” has actually yielded something good. Recent construction projects have come in under budget due to the recession driving down costs, resulting in cost savings that can be spent on other projects. Additionally, projected inflation rates have decreased from 5% to 2%, which means that future projects should cost less than had been anticipated. Projected interest rates have had a similar decrease. ITD has also been tightening its belt, which has resulted in some additional cost savings. These types of current and projected savings yield a total of about $100 million; the additional $80 million will come from GARVEE bonds, as recent GARVEE-funded projects have also come in under budget.

Finally, how does this affect COMPASS, and even more importantly, how does it affect you?  The construction projects will be paid for with your tax dollars. As a taxpayer, you have a say in how that money is spent. In addition, the projects – both during and post-construction – will affect your travels if you drive along Interstate 84 or cross over I-84 at any of the three interchanges that may be rebuilt. You have a chance to say if you want this or not.

Take a few minutes to comment on these projects and share your opinions through the annual Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) public comment period (August 27 – September 25). This is your chance to comment on all projects, including these four, which are budgeted to be completed with federal funding in the Treasure Valley in the next five years. Click here for more information and to comment.

Because the three interchange rebuilds were not anticipated, COMPASS needs additional input from you on those. When COMPASS develops its long-range transportation plan (Communities in Motion), it can only include projects with a reasonable likelihood of being funded as part of the planned transportation system – those projects are on the “funded” list of projects and are the projects Communities in Motion plans for. Other needed projects are still discussed in the plan, but are identified as “unfunded” or “partially funded.” The Meridian Interchange rebuild is considered “unfunded” in the plan and the Broadway and Gowen interchanges are the unfunded portions of a larger “partially funded” corridor.

So, why does that matter? Any project that receives federal transportation funds (which all three interchange projects will) must be planned for in the long-range transportation plan. While the projects are discussed in Communities in Motion, the fact that they are not listed as “funded” means they are not “planned for” in Communities in Motion. Therefore, COMPASS must amend Communities in Motion to show them as part of the funded plan for them to be built. Concurrent with the TIP public comment period, public comment on this proposed amendment to Communities in Motion is open from August 27 through September 25. Again, click here for more information and to comment.

Every year, I encourage individuals to take time to comment on the TIP. It is a chance to have a say in how your tax dollars will be spent. I encourage you to do that again. However, this year is even more significant than most, with three unanticipated interchange reconstruction projects potentially being added to both the TIP and Communities in Motion. These projects have the potential to significantly affect you; take a moment to have your say.

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.