Criticism of road priorities misses mark

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Several recent letters to the editor have presented personal perspectives that stray a bit from the details I see as the Director of Road & Bridge. Granted, I have had this desk only for the past year and several issues mentioned predate my time with the road department.

Most recently, the critique of county’s prioritizing of road improvement projects is not completely accurate. Bonner County began working with property owners who were willing and able to contribute toward their desired road projects many years ago with a BST project for the Bottle Bay Road. The practice of “Pay to Play” has continued on a variety of roads over the ensuing decades and when offered to the county, it does affect how projects might get prioritized for the coming year.

Prioritizing road projects for any given year has historically been a bit subjective and the district foremen have always had a bit of freedom to select roads in their district for improvements that may significantly reduce the maintenance requirements, such as the BST treatment applied to Wrenco Loop last year. Twenty-two years ago, after a devastating winter of frost damage to the entire road system, we really began a systematic approach to road classification and a sustained reconstruction program across the entire county.

We are approaching completion of a county-wide transportation plan which will also be bringing forth recommendations for road improvement projects. Traffic counts have more recently become a factor of consideration, adopted in 2017, for how to prioritize future projects, but they are only a factor for consideration not a benchmark set in stone.

The Road Department budget is generally the primary factor affecting road project planning and Bonner County Commissioners are currently wrestling with some significant budget conundrums. As they make the adjustments necessary to balance the county budget, all departmental budgets are facing some restrictions. This will undoubtedly influence what projects we are able to even consider for next year.

Not too long ago, another letter to the editor criticized the massive waste of local tax dollars being spent on the Bottle Bay Road intersection project. This letter contained some glaring inaccuracies, including the total cost of widening the intersection to allow right and left turn lanes while funneling bicycle traffic under the intersection. Although this state safety grant funded project is expensive, Bonner County’s $150,000 portion of the total $900,000 project cost is relatively modest.

The Road & Bridge works hard to provide drivers a safe, cost efficient road system. Our budget prevents us from making all the improvements we would like to make, whenever we wish to make them, still the roads of Bonner County have come a long way in the past two decades and will continue to see numerous improvements.

Steve Klatt is director of Bonner County Road & Bridge.

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