Hurdle cleared — Siphon Road/I-15 interchange closer to reality with passage of transportation funding bill

Apr 13th, 2017 | By | Category: Transportation

By Josh Friesen

Provided by ITD

Provided by ITD

POCATELLO – Tuesday’s passage of the Idaho Legislature’s $320 million transportation funding plan means an Interstate 15/Siphon Road interchange is closer than ever at getting the green light.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Bannock County Commissioner Evan Frasure, a former state legislator who also served as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee for 10 years. “It’s such an incredible piece of legislation for us.”

Idaho Gov. C.L “Butch” Otter had until Tuesday to either sign, veto or allow the legislation to pass without his signature. Otter chose the latter option, and the bill, SB 1206, was passed.

SB 1206 allows for up to $300 million in GARVEE bonds to be used to fund new road projects. One project that the Idaho Transportation Department says is one of its top priorities is the widening of Interstate 84 between Nampa and Caldwell. With those GARVEE bonds now available, funding that would have been used for those top-priority projects can now be used for other projects, including the interchange at Siphon Road and I-15. SB 1206 also allows 1 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue to go toward funding road projects. GARVEE bonds borrow against a portion of future federal highway funds to spend on projects sooner.

“Now that the (Idaho) Transportation Board has the flexibility of GARVEE, that frees up over $170 million the board would have committed to the (widening of I-84 between Nampa and Caldwell),” Frasure said. “If GARVEE had failed, they would’ve had to take that $170 million to do that project, which means other projects such as ours would’ve been much more difficult for them to approve.”

With the legislation given the go-ahead by Otter, Bannock County can now move the ball forward with the I-15/Siphon interchange. The ITD has already approved the conceptual design for the interchange, and a need for the project was originally identified by the ITD back in 2003. With both the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck growing to the north and with increased congestion at the I-15/Pocatello Creek Road interchange, the need to extend Siphon Road to I-15 and create a link to the east by coupling it to Olympus Drive is growing.

“The county, we’re really now going to have to gear up,” Frasure said. “In order for us to meet the desired time frame, we’re going to have to ramp it up as a county.”

The county hopes to soon hire a director that can manage the project, and Frasure says the goal is to go back before the Idaho Transportation Board before June 1 to get final approval. Once that happens, Frasure says the county aims to begin construction as early as this year.

One of the first phases of the project is the extension of Olympus Drive. That alone has a conservative estimated cost of $1 million. If the county can find that money in its 2017 funds, it may have to look at its 2018 budget.

“We won’t be able to touch next year’s budget until after the public hearing Aug. 22,” Frasure said. “Well this project wants to move much quicker than that. … We would hope as a county this year to start building the connecting road to the exchange, and again we won’t turn any dirt on that until we have approval from the state. They’ve given us 100 percent confidence so far.”

The estimated cost of the entire project is approximately $25 million. The county has created a public-private partnership that would pay for 80 percent of that, with most of that funding coming in privately.

“Most of it’s private, so that’s individuals and businesses that will be connected to that exchange that will pay for it,” Frasure said.

The passage of the transportation funding plan was not without Otter’s dissent. Though his decision not to sign off on the legislation ultimately led to its enactment, he said that the Legislature has let mistrust and misunderstanding hamper efforts to come up with a more long-term solution to transportation funding. He also said he felt he couldn’t veto the bill because he was afraid legislators would be too preoccupied with the upcoming election cycle to return to the issue in 2018.

Nevertheless, Frasure is grateful for the governor’s decision — as well as the efforts of Idaho Sens. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, and Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa. Those legislators, Frasure said, were key to getting the bill passed through the Senate and House and sent to the governor’s desk.

“We very much appreciate the governor allowing this process to go forward,” Frasure said.

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