With the economy steadily worsening and tax revenues declining, the state of Idaho has been forced to close many of its major rural highways, including Interstate highways, for the winter. This move came after the State Treasurer’s Office announced that there would not be enough funding to maintain highways until the Legislature reconvened in Spring 2009.
Ron Crane, Idaho State Treasurer, announced last month in a press conference that highway maintenance funds for the state “would be nearly exhausted” by the end of 2008, leaving little funding for snow-removal or highway patrol coverage. “To put it bluntly, Idaho will be shut down for the winter,” said Crane in an interview on NPR.
In response to the budget shortfall, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has issued an executive order to the state Department of Transportation, that would effectively close most major state and federal highways in the state for the winter, including Interstate highways 15, 84, 86, and 90. The state plans to use the existing highway winter closure gates at on-ramps to block traffic from entering the roads, and has advised out of state motorists to plan alternate routes to divert around Idaho. In-state motorists will feel little impact from the closures, having access to secondary highways and logging roads which will remain open. Highways in and around Boise, the state’s largest metropolitan area, will also stay open to prevent gridlock.
The executive order will be in effect from midnight December 31, 2008, until May 1, 2009. The state originally planned to close the roads beginning in early December, but pushed back the start date to year’s end to allow time for holiday travelers to pass through the state unobstructed on their way home. But come the New Year, the gates will close, and cross-country travelers will be forced to use alternate routes through neighboring states or across southern Canada. It is believed that the closures will save the state over $18 million in maintenance and law enforcement costs.
The Idaho State Patrol issued an ominous warning to anyone who might be tempted to side-step the gates and attempt travel on blocked highways. “We have fines of up to 500 dollars for anyone convicted of passing a closed gate in a motor vehicle,” cautioned Patrol Lieutenant Mike Broderick. “If you feel the need to go four wheeling or snowmobiling this winter, we suggest you do it in a legal area. And if we have to rescue you from a closed roadway, you’ll also get the bill for any emergency and towing services used to pull your sorry ass out of there.”
Governor Otter expressed his regrets to those affected by the measure. “The people of Idaho are truly sorry for this inconvenience. We hate to scare people away from our fine state, especially during peak skiing season. But unless you’re flying in here or you plan to drive back roads, you might want to stay away for a few months, as Idaho will be essentially closed up.”