New gas and registration fees pay for projects, surprise drivers

Fee increases have surprised some citizens

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COEUR d’ALENE — Idaho transportation officials are wrapping up $49.2 million in new statewide transportation projects that were funded with the fee increases the Legislature passed this spring.

And while the Idaho Transportation Department has a backlog of road and bridge projects that need to be built or maintained, the new gas and registration increases are catching some people off-guard.

Joanne Meyer, of Coeur d’Alene, said she was shocked at the increased fees she had to pay to register her new Toyota Prius. Meyer said Tuesday that she had to pay $95 for a partial year’s registration after purchasing her new electric hybrid car.

Two years ago, she paid $90 to register her old Prius for a total of two years.

“It was sort of a shocker,” she said. “I had not heard or read anything about that.”

The legislation, which held up the Legislature at the end of its 2015 session, increased registration fees by $25 for personal vehicles and $25 for commercial vehicles beginning July 1 of this year.

It also increased the state gas tax from 25 cents to 32 cents per gallon — and as part of that, additional fees were also raised on electric hybrids because they don’t use as much fuel but still affect the transportation infrastructure.

“Many people buy those cars to save money on gas and to improve the environment,” Meyer said. “So yeah, I was a little upset about that.”

Reed Hollinshead, public information specialist for ITD, said less than six months after allocating funds from the first transportation-revenue increase in nearly two decades, the agency is completing the first projects funded with the increase.

Hollinshead said because so many projects were completed, the agency now hopes to move projects forward next year that were not slated for construction until 2017.

"ITD was ready to implement these new projects as soon as the money was available because our staff plans five years ahead. This forward thinking allowed us to quickly reinvest the revenue increase creating jobs, enhancing economic opportunity, and most importantly improving safety for our citizens," ITD Director Brian Ness said in a press release. "Now that we've advanced these projects, it allows us to move up other critically needed road and bridge projects in the planning process."

During this year’s construction, North Idaho saw $2 million in bridge deck life extension projects on Highway 2 in Bonner County, Hollinshead said.

About $11.6 million of the new money will be used on a pavement restoration project on U.S. 95 next spring in Benewah County between Smith Creek and Sheep Creek. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017.

Gov. Butch Otter signed HB 312a into law April 21, authorizing the legislation principally fueled by ongoing gas tax and registration increases. The ITD board voted May 21 to advance critical projects to repair and maintain state highways and bridges using the funds allocated by the Idaho Legislature.

Project selection was based on the criteria of project readiness, bridge restoration or preservation, and pavement rehabilitation or preservation.

Nearly $47 million of the new revenue was spent in those four areas, which allocated $2.8 million to bridge restoration, $13.8 million toward bridge preservation, $21.1 million to pavement restoration and $9.1 million for pavement preservation. There was $2.4 million spent on additional projects, Hollinshead said.

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