Majority of Idahoans find Idaho roads and bridges adequate

The director of the group doing the survey gives a sneak peek of the results.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEJune 27, 2014 

The details of a public opinion poll regarding Idaho's transportation system won't be released for another week or two, but an early look suggests voters don't see an immediate need for more funding.

The survey was initially proposed by Gov. Butch Otter during a meeting with the Associated General Contractors of Idaho last December.

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 he's deferring to Idaho citizens, saying he wants to see what they 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 was funded by U of I's McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

Priscilla Salant, 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 would still 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 between February and April. It included cellphones and land lines, and achieved a 54 percent response rate. Each survey lasted about 10 minutes.

The fact that most respondents didn't see an immediate need to improve Idaho's roads and bridges may make it harder 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. However, he wanted to see the survey results to hear if people 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 per year in transportation funding just to maintain its existing roads and bridges in adequate condition, with another $280 million needed to cover future capacity and safety needs.

During the recent Idaho Republican Party state convention in Moscow earlier this month, 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.

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