Growth. Rendering shows section of 254 miles of road. (Rendering courtesy of Connecting Idaho Partners)

The Idaho Transportation Dept. chose a joint venture of Washington Group International, Boise, and CH2M Hill, Denver, on Nov. 2 to manage a $1.2-billion expansion and construction program for more than 254 miles of highways.

The program, dubbed "Connecting Idaho," was approved by the state legislature in April as a means to improve highway safety and facilitate commerce in the state. Steve Johnson, senior executive vice president of Washington Group, says that the firm has been focused on the project since Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) delivered his address introducing it in January.

The expedited program will mean construction of all $1.2 billion of work over the next six years. The program is 92% funded by federal dollars with an 8% state match, says Dave Butzier, program manager for Washington Group. The money will be raised through sliding-scale Guaranteed Anticipated Revenue (GARVEE) bonds. In the first four years, the amount raised annually cannot exceed 20% of the anticipated future federal funding and the last two have a 30% cap, Butzier says.

The program consists of 13 primary segments for which more than 100 en-gineering and construction contracts will be awarded. Construction should begin next year but "the start of construction depends on how much money the ITD is willing to spend in front of the bonds," says Butzier. The GARVEE bonds will not be sold until June of next year, so any funding will have come straight out of the department’s budget.

Along with the expanding trend of using GARVEE bonds to fund highway projects, this program exemplifies the growing use of program managers for statewide transportation work, says Mike Kennedy, transportation business group president for CH2M Hill. "Using a program manager allows a department of transportation to better leverage staff and resources," he says.

Kennedy predicts the use of program managers will grow. "We’re in the first third of the trend," he says. Other states that previously executed such programs have been mostly coastal ones with explosive growth, he says. Idaho soon will experience similar kinds of growth as part of an expanding Pacific Northwest, he adds.

Eliminating the shortcomings of the state’s transportation system will be crucial to successful growth, says Kennedy. "The growing economy will be dependent on a good transportation system," he says. "The impact of the program on the health and vitality of the economy is its most interesting aspect."

Kennedy claims the importance of the program requires management by a team that understands the intricacies of the state. "We understand the dynamics of the state," says Kennedy, citing the long-term presence of both companies as a major reason for their selection.

The program is not without hurdles. One segment is a new highway through Indian Valley, which faces the double challenge of local resistance and significant environmental challenges, says Butzier. The program also calls for the construction of a bridge over the Snake River Canyon. Approval of an environmental permit is far from guaranteed, says Butzier.