Harsh Winter Dents Idaho’s Road Budget

COEUR D’ALENE – Driving on Idaho highways could get a little bumpy in the next few months.

The winter storms zapped the Idaho Transportation Department’s winter maintenance budget in North Idaho, forcing crews to now cut back on routine road work.

Changes that drivers will notice having to wait longer for potholes on the highways to be fixed. Crews have been working hard to patch them up, but it’s just a band-aid. The state just doesn’t have enough money right now for a permanent solution.

The snow is now gone, revealing the pavement, potholes and, now, the ITD’s budget.

“We have a serious revenue shortfall and its coming home to roost,” says Barbara Babic of ITD’s District 1. She says that the district, which covers all of North Idaho, spent and extra $300,000 this winter for road maintenance.

This winter packed a powerful punch, burying the area in several feet of snow for several weeks. At this time last year, ITD spent just an extra $50,000.

“That sure is a lot of money,” Babic says. “I don’t see it getting any better, because that cuts into our operating budget. You know, kind of rob Peter to pay Paul.”

But Peter doesn’t have the money, either. Babic says that statewide, ITD is facing a $240 million shortfall. She says the problem has been escalating for a few years, and now drivers are starting to notice.

“Well, you can see it right now. Our roads are deteriorating,” she says. “They’ve been in that process for a while. We’ve tried to play catch-up, but putting band-aids on some serious problems isn’t going to help.”

With a tight budget, Babic says daily road and equipment maintenance may have to take a back seat. It will also take longer to fill potholes and fix guardrails.

ITD is already making cuts internally, with fewer trips to Boise and scaling back office supplies. To reduce road damage this spring, ITD put up weight restriction signs earlier than last year.

“We do the best we can and that’s what the people of Idaho expect,” Babic says, “and that’s what we’ll do.”

The budget shortfall will not affect construction projects such as the repaving of Interstate 90 westbound to the Washington state line. Legislation, such as an increase in fuel tax and vehicle registration, is currently being considered to boost revenue for the transportation department.