Your tax dollars are being used for one group’s multimillion-dollar business and it has to stop. It’s an injustice that is costing Idahoans and even taking some lives. You’re probably thinking, “Oh, there goes Carl,” but this is serious and this is what it means to each one of us.
Let’s start at the beginning. About 25 years ago, the Nez Perce Tribe built the Clearwater Casino near Lewiston. They worked with the state of Idaho and agreed to build a new interchange and overpass by the casino as part of the deal, in exchange for business access to State Highway 95. This is common practice that is required for all businesses that want to access any state highway, and that is exactly why the tribe should not be exempt. The tribe stalled on that turn lane/overpass construction for decades, claiming they didn’t have the money, and really nothing has been done to fix this dangerous stretch of road.
The road in front of the Clearwater Casino is one of the most dangerous in the state. According to a 1998 ITD Traffic Impact Study, it was determined that there was the need for a full interchange with an overpass in front of the casino, and since then, seven people have died near the Aht’Wy Plaza. In addition, from 2012 and 2017, there were 18 crashes at the plaza’s entrances alone, and an audit last year showed that while one-percent of crashes statewide result in a fatality, near this plaza, that rate jumps to nine-percent. You shouldn’t have to put your life on the line when pulling out of a parking lot, but that’s exactly what’s happening here.
That brings us to today. The overpass is finally going to be built, and the tribe is responsible for 100 percent, but is only paying five-percent; you are paying the difference. Now I can’t stand here and fault the tribe, because while we have been waiting for them to hold true to their word, our federal government started to pick up the cost with tax dollars. The tribe secured a $19 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the tribe covering only $1 million or 5 percent of the cost of the project. Those are tax dollars that could’ve gone to solve a different traffic problem here in Idaho, one that wasn’t caused by the building of a private casino and profits only one group. Ultimately, the federal government is bailing out a profitable business, with our money.
As vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and as an elected Senator from District 7, I standby my campaign promise of requiring accountability from government, advocating for personal responsibility and standing by my fiscal conservatism.
It is my duty to make sure tax dollars are spent with caution and wisely. It is also my responsibility to make sure that it is spent fairly on all our roads and bridges so that they are safe to drive on. I have been in contact with Director Ness and together we are working on a plan to stop this abuse of funds from happening again.
Senator Carl Crabtree, Grangeville, is the vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.