Talking about the Idaho Transportation Department may not be a subject that gets your blood flowing these days — especially with football season upon us — but we’re not here to talk about new rules for your license and registration renewal or the latest plan for snow removal. There is something more fundamentally important at stake. It involves the lifeblood of a small-town Idaho community, the safety of rural Idahoans and your tax dollars. In summation, the Idaho Transportation Department has never been so vital to so many people.
The subject we’re talking about is a location. In fact, a very specific one — the District 4 headquarters for the Idaho Transportation Department on Date Street in Shoshone. Many of you know it well. It has become a mainstay of the Shoshone community for half a century. However, given its age, the building is not what it used to be. It needs a new roof, new windows, new HVAC system, you name it. The ITD has run the numbers and determined it would be easier and cheaper to simply buy a new building than renovate the current one. Fair enough. The problem is, they are considering moving the headquarters out of the city of Shoshone and into Twin Falls or Jerome. Not only would such a move devastate the Shoshone community, it would be a kick in the teeth to the rural Idahoans who populate the vast District 4 region.
The economic blow to Shoshone is obvious. The city itself has a population of about 1,500 people. The ITD employs 60 of those people at District 4 headquarters. Half of those people are expected to retire over the next 10 years, which means another 30 jobs will be opening during that time period. According to a news report last year, moving the headquarters to a bigger city would drain Shoshone’s local economy of $250,000. There are also concerns about the negative effect a move would have on local property values and Lincoln County’s ability to attract new businesses. For a small Idaho town in a small Idaho county, those are major threats. Moving the District 4 headquarters out of Shoshone would be akin to a saw mill closing in any number of small Idaho towns — a huge economic event that could cripple the local economy for years to come.
Perhaps more important than the economy of a small town is the general safety of rural Idahoans. The ITD District 4 website says it all: “Idaho is home to a lot of rural roadways that present some unique safety challenges.” This was the lead sentence in a post about “Rural Safety Initiatives” that came out just last month. Keep in mind, District 4 covers the third largest geographic area and serves the third-largest population in the state. Of the 11,500 square miles it covers, much of that area is rural Idaho. Shoshone is smack-dab in the center of all of that space — 50 percent of the district is north of Shoshone and 50 percent is south. As such, it is a geographically “fair” location for the district it serves. The last time the ITD talked about moving the District 4 headquarters, the board understood the unique challenges posed by the region (just like it says on their website) and decided Shoshone was the best place to keep it. While we’re sure there are plenty of qualified people in Idaho’s bigger cities (where the ITD is already having trouble filling job openings), the people who work in the Shoshone office understand rural Idaho first hand. That direct knowledge is what helps keep us safe on the roads of South Central Idaho.
Finally, how would you like to save about $200,000? Of course you would. You work hard for your money, so why would you want the ITD to spend your tax dollars on a new headquarters in a bigger city when Shoshone is the cheapest option? According to estimates provided by the ITD, moving the headquarters from Shoshone to Twin Falls or Jerome would cost around $4 million. Moving to a new location in Shoshone would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars less. Why pass up a chance to actually save $200,000? Idaho has enough challenges when it comes to spending our transportation dollars wisely. We can’t afford to throw away tax dollars when cheaper options are available.
The only question we have is why this topic is even being debated. Moving the ITD’s District 4 headquarters to a new location in Shoshone would 1) continue to boost the economy of a bedrock small town in Idaho 2) provide rural Idahoans with employees who understand rural Idaho first hand and 3) save Idaho taxpayers a big chunk of change. This is what we call a win-win-win situation. We hope you see it the same way. And, while talking about the ITD may not normally be your first choice for conversation, the subject has never been so important to this region.
Don’t take our word for it, though. The ITD Board is holding a public meeting at District 4 headquarters in Shoshone on Thursday, Sept. 21, starting at 9 a.m. Be sure to tell Commissioner Jim Kempton that, on this very important issue, all roads should go through Shoshone. We certainly will.