Here we go again. This month's version of I-15 roadway roulette has begun. Does the state have the money to reconstruct the interstate or doesn't it? That answer seems to change with every new full moon.
The latest saga casts Rep. Merrill Cook as the eternal optimist, playing opposite Clint Topham, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation.Cook says don't sweat the small stuff. He told state lawmakers Utah has a 90 percent chance of receiving at least $400 million of the $450 million it has budgeted for the $2.8 billion reconstruction of I-15 and other state roads, and that figure could go as high as $750 million. While that's no guarantee, it sounds promising.
As a member of the U.S. House Transportation Committee and its Surface Transportation Subcommittee, Cook should know of what he speaks.
Yet Congress is at an impasse over how to distribute highway funds, leaving state lawmakers scrambling to make up the shortfall. The question of when federal highway funding will be reauthorized for the next six years remains anyone's guess. Reauthorization has become a strange phenomenon. Washington, aglow in budget surpluses, cannot come to terms regarding transportation funding.
Cook also held out hope that Utah would receive an additional $250 million in highway money for hosting the 2002 Winter Games and its reconstruction of I-15. But Georgia only received $53 million in federal transportation allocation for the 1996 Summer Games.
On the other side of the optimism pendulum is Topham, who hinted to Utah's Democratic lawmakers that trimming $200 million from UDOT budgets over the next 10 years is not a certainty. Gov. Mike Leavitt suggested that figure as part of the $2.8 billion required to complete the mammoth I-15 project, citing an agreement with UDOT Executive Director Tom Warne to trim $20 million annually through greater efficiency.
That figure has been inked as a hard number, yet reality may mandate differently as construction and economic cycles play out over the next 10 years.
Topham said UDOT could manage $37.6 million in savings and perhaps more down the road by reducing engineering overhead on future projects. But his comments engendered some uncertainly about the $200 million figure.
Then again, uncertainty seems to carry the day when it comes to I-15 reconstruction funding. We hope state and federal financial allocations can soon be set in concrete to remove the guesswork.