Politics & Government

Ada County drivers, you subsidize big trucks — even though they damage roads more.

Commuters inch along Garden City’s Glenwood Street in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Ada County Highway District says it would use money from a proposed registration fee increase to relieve congestion through widening streets, widening intersections, adding bike lanes or other projects. Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether the fee hike goes into effect.
Commuters inch along Garden City’s Glenwood Street in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Ada County Highway District says it would use money from a proposed registration fee increase to relieve congestion through widening streets, widening intersections, adding bike lanes or other projects. Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether the fee hike goes into effect. doswald@idahostatesman.com

The Ada County Highway District’s proposed registration fee increase leaves out vehicles that cause the most damage to roads — those weighing more than four tons.

The exemption has some county residents, including District 17’s State Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, crying foul.

“It’s unfair and unconscionable,” Gannon said.

It’s also not ACHD’s fault. The district’s legal team has concluded that state law does not authorize ACHD to charge registration fees on vehicles that weigh 8,000 pounds or more. So the owners of regular vehicles, most of which weigh much less than that, are subsidizing the owners of big trucks, which cause much more damage to roads.

State law assesses registration fees on big trucks through a separate statute that accounts for weight and miles driven. The heavier the vehicle and the more miles it drives, the higher the fee. But the statute authorizing highway districts like ACHD to charge their own registration fees on top of state fees also requires districts to follow rules established in the law that exempt heavy trucks.

The result is that owners of passenger cars often pay higher total registration fees than owners of trucks that weigh as much as 15 tons, Gannon said.

A Statehouse fix?

At a hearing Wednesday on ACHD’s proposed fee increase, Gannon suggested that the district make the increase expire after two years so the Legislature can address this inequity.

Gannon has drafted a bill that would allow ACHD and other highway districts to charge up to $70 per year for truck registrations. ACHD commissioners told Gannon they would support that effort.

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Gannon also wants to change state law to allow highway districts to spend as much as 25 percent of registration fee money on public transportation infrastructure, such as dedicated bus lanes.

Vote coming Nov. 6

ACHD commissioners voted to put the proposed fee increase on the Nov. 6 ballot, with two of five members — Jim Hansen and Kent Goldthorpe — opposed.

If voters approve, the district’s annual fee will increase to $70 from $40 for vehicles up to 2 years old; to $63 from $36 for vehicles from 3 to 6years old; and to $42 from $24 for those 7 years and older.

Those charges would be added to the state’s own fees: $69, $57 and $45 for the same age tiers. So registering a new vehicle would cost $139 in Ada County.

Several county residents asked the district’s commissioners to earmark more money from registration fees for projects such as bike lanes, sidewalks and better accommodations for public transportation. The goal of these projects would be to encourage people to rely less on cars.

Goldthorpe proposed spending half of the roughly $5 million expected from the fee increase — if it passes — on such measures. But his fellow commissioners rejected the proposal.

Commission President Sara Baker pointed out that congestion relief, one of the stated purposes for the increase, can include the widening of roads and intersections, but it can also include bike lanes and other non-car infrastructure.

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