Statement of Jim Kempton
Chairman, Transportation Committee
Idaho State Senate
ISTEA Reauthorization
March 22, 1997

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee: Thank you for taking time to visit Idaho to hear testimony on the Idaho transportation system and requirements facing that system into the next century.

Idaho is a diverse state in terms of population, geography, topography, economic base, politics and transportation infrastructure. Historically, early explorers and pioneers followed the water ways into north Idaho and the California and Oregon trail systems into southern Idaho. Ii my County, five trails segments crisscrossed between the Oregon and California trails; all integrating as part of a primi~tiv~e transportation system that later complemented the con~tinental railroad "golden spike" connection just thirty-five miles south.

Transportation north and south was generally nonexistent until the gold fields in rugged~ central Idaho became an economic engine that drove construction of turn~-of-the-century wagon trails and narrow gauge rail lines. The timber industry began to grow in the north and agriculture in the south began to prosper ~from the irrigation resources of the Snake River.

Today, despite a history replete in pride, tradition and an uncompromising work ethic, Idaho continues to be challenged in effecting an efficient transportation system.

An elongated state, Idaho is divided horizontally in the south by the Snake River, and gain horizontally through north-central Idaho by numerous mountain ranges. On the east, there is the Teton Mountain Range and to the west, once again, the Snake River progressing to the Columbia River drainage. The state highway system is confined by bridge requirements over canyons in the south and to the north by twisting two-lane roads that cross pristine rivers and lakes from Boise to the Canadian boarder. Rail lines are no less constrained.

For a state with a general and account of $1.4 billion, the estimate to bring Idaho roads to federal standards is over $8 billion. That amount does not include money that would be required to-f~und roa~d~ and bridge construction for N~AFTA traffic diverted over the State highway system as a result of retaining 80,000 pound truck limits on the federal interstate system.

Last session, in an election year, I carried a 4 cent gas tax bill on gasoline and diesel fuels. In response to the "needs assessment study" which had indicated a $8 billion backlog on Idaho's highways, the Idaho Transportation Department had demonstrated an ability to reverse highway deterioration trends by accelerating maintenance and resurfacing, That bill passed narrowly in the House and, with the governor's help, passed by one vote in the Senate. The state f~uel tax is now 25 cents and the additional dollars from the 4 cent tax are directed totally to roads and bridges,~ no administration,

This put legislative session I was forced to break a transportation committee tie vote which would have allowed truck weights to increase from 103,300 pounds to 129,000 pound trucks on State highways. Like th~e 4 cent gas tax, this was a to~ugh deci~~sion ~~The econo~my in my area is agricultural based and is beginning to anticipate increased losses resulting from Canadian trucks above 105,500 pounds moving agricultural products from newly established processing plants in Canada to ports and population centers in, or near, the United States. Why isn't the answer as simple as raising truck weights to 129,000 pounds on Idaho roads.

Because the Federal government has failed to establish an interstate transportation weight limit policy which would interconnect with expanded weight limits on state highways. This is not a "chicken and egg" issue. The suggestion that states lead the way in motivating the federal government to increase interstate weight limits is a specious argument. The states did not negotiate NAFTA and the states cannot independently establish the national transportation corridors that will be required to implement the Act.

For example, southern Idaho agricultural products transported at 129,000 pounds cannot connect to west coast ports through Oregon or to the Idaho inland port of Lewiston by Highway 95. North-South NAFTA traffic at 129,000 pounds could take place through Montana, Idaho, and Utah south, but heavy commercial traffic through Idaho would be on roads which were never designed to handle commercial traffic of this volume and weight. The twisting, narrow surface, small town connected, state highway system is not where heavy weight mainline commercial traffic of the 21st century should be directed.

On a separate matter, Idaho is a state where 64% of the land is federally owned and regulated for the benefit of the nation as a whole. The increasingly heavy recreational traffic is having a significant impact on the state and county roads leading to popular recreational areas.

Last Wednesday I read in the paper where fees were going to start being charged in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and other Forest Service and BLM select areas to help provide money to supplement diminishing federal funding. It goes without saying that none of that fee money will be directed to road structures passing in, out and through these high density recreation areas.

In my county, a narrow two-laned road to the City of Rocks National Reserve is maintained by an unorganized highway district with no tax base. The road, constructed parallel to part of the California Trail, is rapidly deteriorating and yet serves both a national and international population of visitors. Not unlike other state and county roads serving the ~~goals of federal land use, no f~unding resolutions are in sight.

Finally, appropriations from the Federal Highway Trust Fund remains a vital issue in adequate fending of the Idaho transportation system. Idaho is a net receiver State under the present ISTEA funding formula; without which ~funding~ the state would have ~~~moved ~ev~en farther behind the $8 billion shortfall line. This is not a supposition, it is a fact.

~Hope~fully the reauthorization of a new surface~ transportation act will give consideration to the uniq~ueness of the individual states. Certainly the introduction of "STARS 2000" as a successor to ISTEA is a logical and much appreciated step in integratin~g urban and rural factors affecting all facets of an efficient national transportation system. I would like to be one of many to thank you, Senator Kempthorne, Senator Baucus, and ~~~~~others, who are working for the introduction of STARS 2000.

~Finally, Use of the Highway Trust Fund to balance the nation's budget is an unfortunate abuse of tax revenue collected from highway users across the nation; as are executive branch expenditures for roads and bridges in amounts less tha~~n appropriated by Congress for the same purposes. Even more unfortunate would be the expansion of Federal Highway Trust Fund expend~~itures to include AMTRAK operations and mass transit operations~~.

Two additional co~mments ~~concerning the Federal Highway Trust Fund: First, funding from th~e Fund should attain a higher level; $26-27 billion would not be excessi~~~ve and Second, the 4.3 cent federal gas tax going to the general fund ~should be redirected to the Trust Fund. To do less is to foster the widely held belief that I~STEA~ has fallen short as an equitable funding process ~lead~~ing to achievement of state and national transportation goals. Certainly this ~is no time to suggest that toll taxing the federal highway system is~~~~ the next order of business.

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee~~~, you have a difficult task ahead. I wish you the best in your ~~~deliberations. The economic security of this nation literally rides on the vision you have for a ~future transportation system that will fairly and efficiently serve these United States.