Majority finds Idaho roads and bridges adequate

Road work on Idaho highways is a common sight during the summer months, as this 2012 file photo on U.S. Highway 20 shows. In a recent survey, two-thirds of respondents described Idaho’s infrastructure as adequate to meet the state’s existing transportation needs.

While details of a public opinion survey regarding Idaho’s transportation system won’t be released for another week or two, a sneak peek at the results suggests voters don’t see an immediate need for more funding.

The survey was proposed in December by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter during a meeting with the Associated General Contractors of Idaho.

While Otter has been a strong supporter of increasing revenue to meet the state’s highway and bridge maintenance needs, he turned shy on the subject after the Idaho Legislature twice rejected his plans to raise fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Now Otter is deferring to Idahoans, saying he wants to see what state residents think before taking another run at the issue.

The survey of 1,062 likely voters was conducted by the University of Idaho’s Social Science Research Unit and funded by UI’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

Priscilla Salant, interim director of the McClure Center, said the results will be released on or about July 8 and posted on the center’s website. However, she presented three “sample results” during a recent Association of Idaho Cities conference.

“We gave them a tiny bit of data,” Salant said Monday. “But we’re being very careful to make sure our methodology followed best practices, so we asked an external reviewer to look at the results. We received her comments and suggestions the day of the AIC meeting and want to incorporate them into the technical report prior to releasing it.”

The first sample result indicated 98 percent of respondents felt roads and bridges were important to Idaho’s economy, with 71 percent describing them as very important.

The second showed two-thirds of respondents described Idaho’s infrastructure as adequate to meet the state’s existing transportation needs. However, only 27 percent felt it still would be adequate in 10 years.

Finally, 65 percent of respondents said the state’s major highways were in good to excellent condition, but fewer than a third felt their county roads met that description.

The statewide survey was conducted from February to April. It included cellphones and landlines, and achieved a 54 percent response rate. Each survey lasted about 10 minutes.

Since most respondents didn’t see an immediate need to improve Idaho’s roads and bridges, that could make it more difficult for any transportation funding proposals to advance during the 2015 legislative session.

A handful of funding bills have been introduced in recent years, but none of them received a public hearing. Absent strong support from the governor and majority leadership, that’s unlikely to change next year.

In a meeting with reporters after the 2014 legislative session ended in March, Otter said he continues to see a need for more infrastructure funding. But he wanted to wait for the survey results to see whether Idahoans shared his concerns and, if so, how they’d prefer to pay for any improvements.

“There’s no reason for us to rush in with a bad product as a result of an anemic (public buy-in) process,” he said.

In 2010, a gubernatorial task force concluded that Idaho needed an additional $262 million a year in transportation funding to maintain existing roads and bridges, with another $280 million needed to cover future capacity and safety needs.

During the recent Idaho Republican Party state convention in Moscow, delegates offered preliminary approval for a resolution opposing any increase in fuel taxes or vehicle registration fees. The issue died because it wasn’t taken up during a divisive general floor session.