A few weeks ago, IdahoReporter.com posted an article about why the two largest transportation agencies in the state, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and the Ada County Highway District (ACHD), don't post financial information about construction projects on roadside signs. ACHD says that it would cost too much to post the information, while ITD maintains that fewer road signs are safer for Idaho's drivers. Some Republicans in the Idaho Legislature are challenging the explanations, including one high-ranking official who plans to make an issue out of it. One Democrat is opposed to posting the information, on the grounds that it is unnecessary.
Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, is one of the highest-ranking and most-tenured Republicans in the Statehouse. Wood chairs the House Transportation Committee and also sits on a National Highway Safety Board. Wood said that she thinks ITD's claim that it cannot post a project's fiscal information on a roadside sign is bunk. "I have no idea why they think that," said Wood. "Why would it be unsafe? Unless the signs are great big and obstruct a driver's view, which they don't have to be, then they are safe." The Rigby Republican says that she has an upcoming meeting with agency officials and that she will broach the subject with them. "They are going to have to prove it to me," Wood told IdahoReporter.com. She also said that she would be in favor legislation requiring ITD to post project financial information, including the cost of road debt to the state. "I want them to post that Idaho taxpayers are paying $51 million a year in interest on GARVEE bonds to fund some of the work," Wood concluded.
June Sparks, spokesperson for ITD, said that her department has strict policies that determine what can be displayed on roadway signs. The only signs that ITD currently allows that broach the topic of funding are the GARVEE signs, which indicate to drivers that the project at which the sign is located is paid for by Idaho Legislature-approved bonds. Sparks said that she previously requested to install signs informing drivers of the various social media tools ITD uses to keep drivers informed about road conditions, but was rejected because of ITD policy. ”ITD considers signs to be a distraction. Other than directional information signs, and overhead signs with simply-stated safety information, we don’t do them,” Sparks told IdahoReporter.com.
The GARVEE bonding system is how Idaho funds some projects on the most critical highways. The Legislature has approved approximately $672 million in bonds, including $12 million for right-of-way purchases during the 2010 legislative session.
The idea of posting fiscal information is popular with some members of Wood's Transportation Committee. Two Meridian Republicans, Reps. Joe Palmer and Marv Hagedorn, both support the idea of posting information. Hagedorn, like Wood, doesn't believe that posting the fiscal information would be unsafe. "They need to show data to support that and that data needs to include if there were other signs present as well," said Hagedorn, who believes it’s proper for public to know construction data. "I think it's right for people to know how much things cost." Hagedorn believes ITD officials may be hiding the real reason they choose not to post fiscal data on roadsides. "They don't want to tell folks how much their projects cost as they are concerned that people will think they are wasting funds and will cut their budgets," Hagedorn concluded.
Palmer echoed Hagedorn in an interview with IdahoReporter.com. "Transparency in government spending is something I often preach and am highly in favor of posting costs and debt incurred for every project on signs," Palmer said.
Not every lawmaker on Wood's committee agreed with posting the data, however. Democrat Phylis King, representing Boise, said that she feels it's not necessary to post financial information. "If you can find it on the website, then I think it is unnecessary," said King. "If it's there, that's enough." She does favor, however, posting the source of funds used for road projects, including signs pointing to GARVEE bonds or stimulus dollars used in paying for road work. "That's just good public relations," concluded King.