A greater percentage of funds should be earmarked for roads, bridges, and railroad crossing improvements. In Idaho there is a need for local bridge replacements and rehabilitation projects which far exceed the available funding for that program. The money for state planning and research exceeds the money available for bridge replacement projects at 2.2 million to 1.3 million. The counties would like to see more money for bridge replacements and rehabilitation.
The counties feel that the Highway Trust Fund should be taken off the budget to protect it from being used to reduce the Federal deficit. The money collected from the sale of fuel should be used for maintaining and operating the road system, not for political purposes. The Idaho Association of Counties supports the ability to use the surface transportation formula funds on both rural and urban road systems. More local input is needed in prioritizing expenditures of these funds, and they should focus on the local road system.
Transportation planning is very important on regional, statewide, and local levels and must take into account all modes of travel to protect the integrity of the roads system, as well as all of the transportation system to individuals not desiring to use automobiles.
Since the Highway Trust Fund is supported by the user fees, the emphasis of future legislation should be to protect the highway infrastructure within the Nation and states. The counties support giving local highway jurisdiction and ability to set their own priorities on transportation issues and greater voice and flexibility in influencing transportation plans that satisfy local needs. We would like to continue to have Federal policy recognized and require that local officials play a prominent role in local and regional transportation plans.
We believe that the process and the procedures on Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality and enhancement programs should be streamlined to help improve the deliveries of funds. We also hope that the reauthorization of ISTEA would simplify the system of design review, projects approval and regulations that state and local MOPs and citizens have to go through to get projects going. The reauthorization should move the Federal Government away from its role of reviewing projects and setting design standards to have oversight without sacrificing environmental safeguards particularly when multiple reviews substantially increase the cost of particular projects.
The Federal Lands Highway Program.
This program works well in Idaho for those local highway jurisdictions who receive significant benefit from the program and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads accessing our Federal lands. Over 60 percent of Idaho is owned by the Federal Government, and the access to public lands for recreation and tourism is increasing. The program along with the Public Lands Discretionary Funds is a significant support to the deterioration roadway transportation system in Idaho. We fully support reauthorization.
We feel that the portion of ISTEA dealing with the hold harmless provision is discriminatory. The roads on which these funds are used are for access to public lands owned by the Federal Government. Penalizing Idaho for using these funds on access roads for the overall public of other highway programs under ISTEA is unfair.
We would like to see it eliminated. We would like to see the communication between the Federal Government and the local highway jurisdictions improve. By allowing us to assist in prioritizing our projects could be helpful both to the local jurisdiction and Federal Government. Working together for an overall transportation need for the state will lead towards better relationship between Federal Government and local highway jurisdictions in Idaho.
In Idaho one thing that should be considered in various programs is that by using Federal dollars there is relatively high design standards which do not enable funds to go as far in construction of roads in mountainous territory. Also, once completed, they become the responsibility of local jurisdictions which are truly limited in ways to raise revenue. Some flexibility would be beneficial as well as considering giving assistance to local jurisdiction with maintenance of the system.