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Governor proposes bill allocating $80 million for statewide road improvement projects

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Gov. Brad Little addressing the media during a news conference in Blackfoot on Wednesday. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

BLACKFOOT – Gov. Brad Little made a stop at Premier Technology in Blackfoot on Wednesday to discuss the plan he’s introducing to the Legislature to provide funding for multiple highway and infrastructure improvement projects throughout the state.

The Sustainable Transportation Funding proposal takes $80 million in state funds to go toward these projects. This is in addition to federal funds the state receives every year.

“We have to have sustainable, long-term funding for transportation,” Little said during a news conference. “When I was putting this together, I asked the Idaho Transportation Department to go to their local engineers and determine what the most critical projects were in specific areas. None of the projects are guaranteed and will have to stand on their own merit.”

Each project will be determined by the state transportation board and vary in scope and complexity, but Little says the common denominator for most of them is reducing congestion.

“One day, it takes you 10 minutes to get to work, and then it takes you 15, 20, then 30 or 40 minutes just because of the traffic. We’re trying to get ahead of that and do planning to where that really valuable commodity, your time, is preserved,” says Little.

One of the major projects being discussed in eastern Idaho is focused on improving traffic flow on the interchange between U.S. 20 and Interstate 15 in Idaho Falls.

This has been a topic of study for the last several years. ITD settled on three different options in 2019 after reviewing public comment.

RELATED | ITD settles on three options to solve I-15/US 20 congestion

Local ITD spokeswoman Megan Stark tells EastIdahoNews.com this project is moving into the next step of evaluation, which is expected to take another four to six years.

“We’re hoping to start construction in the next 10 years. However, the problem is going to be budgeting,” Stark says. “No matter what alternative we go with … it’s going to be extremely expensive, and we don’t have the funds to pull that out.”

The design and construction cost is estimated between $300 and $400 million. Public feedback is accepted on an ongoing basis through the project’s website.

Another project involves expanding 42 miles of I-15 between Idaho Falls and Pocatello by adding a third lane. The proposal also includes rebuilding the road and 60 different structures, such as bridges and culverts, to accommodate the expansion.

The project would be done in three phases, beginning from Pocatello north and finish in Idaho Falls.

Stark says this project is still in the initial stages and hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet.

“This one is strictly in concept. It’s something we see a future need for, but we have yet to do any studies or look further into it because of funding,” she says.

The project would require years of study, Stark says, and a timeline for its implementation is unclear at this point. Preliminary cost estimates range from $1.23 billion to $1.5 billion.

Little says he hopes the Legislature will act on his funding bill this session. The Legislature resumes April 6.

RELATED | Idaho legislators going home until April 6 due to COVID-19 outbreak

“We can’t flip a switch and do this,” Little says of the statewide improvement projects. “These projects take time. If we’re successful, there’ll be a lot of orange cones on the highway. It will slow down some traffic (during construction).”

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