‘Once-in-a-generation opportunity’: Idaho officials react to national infrastructure bill

Bill includes billions for infrastructure, including broadband, clean water and bridges

By: - August 11, 2021 4:30 am

The bridge over the Snake River between Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington (David Mark/Pixabay).

An infrastructure bill that includes more than $2.5 billion in dedicated funding for Idaho passed the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, with “yes” votes from both of Idaho’s Republican senators. According to a statement from Republican Sen. Mike Crapo about the bill, it includes $1.9 billion in funding for road construction, repair and maintenance alone.

The original bill was proposed in March by President Joe Biden with a price tag of $2 trillion, and after months of negotiation, the final version was pared down to $1.2 trillion — $550 billion of which is entirely new spending in addition to the usual federal transportation funds, according to States Newsroom reporting. 

It includes spending for infrastructure investments, including the largest allocation of federal funding for public transit in history, according to the White House. It also includes funding for bridges, clean water infrastructure, broadband internet and electric vehicle infrastructure.

“The bipartisan legislation we passed today makes investments in traditional, hard infrastructure projects to help keep pace with Idaho’s rapid growth,” Crapo said in his statement. He said he supports it in part because it reprioritizes federal COVID relief funds rather than raising taxes to pay for it.

“It contains counter-inflationary measures focused primarily on long-term productivity rather than near-term demand. This is especially critical right now, as rising prices impact families and small businesses across America,” Crapo wrote. “Republicans were successful in keeping out of this bill changes to states’ Right-to-Work status and increased funding for the Internal Revenue Service.”

In a shorter statement, Republican Sen. Jim Risch said he supported the lower cost bill because it would not raise taxes and it was better than other options presented by Democrats.

“Senators had two choices: this $550 billion package with no tax increases, or allow Democrats to pass the Biden proposal of $2.5 trillion, raise taxes, and pile it on top of their impending $3.5 trillion social spending spree. On behalf of Idaho, I chose to support the lower $550 billion investment in hard infrastructure like roads, bridges, and broadband. 

“I believe it to be the substantially more reasonable and conservative solution to the necessary infrastructure spending. I intend to vigorously oppose Democrats’ reckless $3.5 trillion social spending bill, which is coming next.”

Infrastructure has been a key subject in Idaho for many years, and it has often received criticism from national organizations for not keeping pace with growth, from traffic problems to failing bridges. In 2018, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Idaho a C-minus for its infrastructure condition, capacity, resilience and other factors. It is often a point of contention during sessions of the Idaho Legislature, and has been a priority for Gov. Brad Little.

What else does the bill include for Idaho?

According to Crapo’s statement, the bill:

  • Authorizes $213 million for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in Idaho, and includes funding for Bureau of Reclamation water storage, groundwater and conveyance projects in Idaho that include water storage for the Boise River Project.  
  • $225 million for bridge construction, maintenance and repair in Idaho.   
  • More than $3.3 billion available for Idaho and other states for wildland firefighting efforts and an additional $5.75 billion nationwide for natural resources infrastructure, including fire management and reduction. 
  • A three-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program, through Fiscal Year 2023.
  • Infrastructure planning for small modular reactors and micro reactors. The bill also includes a civil nuclear grant program.
  • $100 million for broadband expansion in Idaho, with extra funding based on maps that show where additional broadband is most needed.
  • Reforms to the permitting process to accelerate construction projects.

 

Boise, Meridian government officials say public transit will be important

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said she has met with members of Idaho’s congressional delegation and expressed her support for the infrastructure package, particularly investments in clean water and water resilience.

“This was a great example of bipartisan work to address the needs of our communities today and well into the future,” McLean told the Idaho Capital Sun. “I was happy to see our senators in particular engaged in the negotiations and supporting the package. As we’ve seen, particularly here in Boise, we have real needs, and there’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the future.”

Crapo’s statement did not mention public transit funding for Idaho from the bill, but if the state does receive funding for that, Meridian City Councilor Luke Cavener said it must be done with a long-term, dedicated planning focus. Cavener is also part of the Valley Regional Transit Board of Directors, and he said the approach to public transit up until now has been piecemeal between individual cities.

“The problem is our public transit is a mutual government agreement, we don’t have a state-led system of authority,” Cavener said. “How can you plan long term, and how can you invest in infrastructure when every year you’re wondering what the budget will be?”

McLean said it is a high priority of hers to connect cities across the Treasure Valley through public transit as communities and economies become more connected through growth. For example, while meeting with Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas in April, McLean said their restaurant server lived in Boise.

“Our communities are incredibly connected, our economies are dependent on each other, and we want to make sure people can find an affordable house with transportation that helps them get to the opportunities that exist in the region,” McLean said.

McLean said the best infrastructure investments should be made locally, but state partnership will be needed as well.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Little’s office had not released a formal statement on the bill. Marissa Morrison Hyer, Little’s press secretary, told the Idaho Capital Sun the governor’s office is closely following the legislation in coordination with congressional representatives to determine whether the bill is right for Idaho.

The bill, which passed with all U.S. Senate Democrats and 19 Republicans voting in favor of the measure, now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.

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