Six years ago, our horizons were wider here in the Magic Valley.

As part of his debt-funded Connecting Idaho initiative, then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposed building a third bridge across the Snake River Canyon at Twin Falls. Cost: $184 million.

This week, as the Idaho Transportation Department completed one its periodic inspections of the 35-year-old Perrine Bridge, and the talk was just about making sure the span reached its planned 50-year life expectancy.

What happened in the meantime to downsize our ambitions?

A recession, of course, and a consequent shift in nation's priorities that left debt financing less an option for government. Plus, it turns out, Kempthorne low-balled the potential cost of a third bridge. The actual price tag would probably be closer to $1 billion.

All of which swept the prospective third bridge off ITD's radar as part of Connecting Idaho, which was funded through grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds to be paid for by future federal highway payments to Idaho.

The economic impact of constructing a third bridge would have been substantial. Connecting the Highway 93/30 Bypass - completed earlier this year with federal stimulus funds - with an alternate route to Interstate 84 somewhere between Wendell and Jerome could have meant billions of dollars in new revenue to the Magic Valley.

Instead, for better or worse, our economic future is probably tied exclusively to the Perrine Bridge and to the 45-year-old Hansen Bridge.

Trouble is, there's more transportation infrastructure built - and coming - than the Perrine and Hansen bridges can accommodate, forcing us to ration our resources.

When the time comes - and it will - when commute traffic backs up from the intersection of Blue Lakes Boulevard North and Pole Line Road in Twin Falls to the junction of U.S. Highway 93 and I-84 in Jerome County, what will our response be?

Building more access to the Perrine Bridge would be futile. New bridge or no new bridge, we must look elsewhere - perhaps to a south-bank to north-bank span within the Snake River Canyon somewhere west of the Perrine Bridge, with Canyon Springs Grade- and Blue Lakes Grade-style roads on either side.

That's far from an ideal solution, but we have a dwindling range of options in the next few decades.

The bigger question is what happens when the Perrine Bridge itself has to be replaced. It will turn 50 - the end of its nominal lifespan - in 2026.

Another, bigger bridge will have to be built at the same site. But how will we pay for it, and between now and then how best to plan for growth on both sides of the canyon?

The Perrine Bridge is the single most important element in the economy of south-central Idaho. Without it - north side and south side - we'd be out of business.

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