Roads and climate change: How can Idaho’s infrastructure maintain resiliency?

At noon on December 6, 2021, Idaho’s Highway 55 finally opened up after an almost twenty-day closure. A rockslide near Smiths Ferry had completely blocked the main road connecting West Central Idaho and the Treasure Valley. 

There is only one other connecting route between Boise and McCall which uses Interstate 84 and Highway 95. Because this alternative route is about 50 miles longer than using Highway 55, diverting traffic caused significant increases in gas consumption and general wear and tear on vehicles. This single rockslide on Highway 55 caused regional interruptions in the transportation of people, goods, and services. Businesses in Donnelly had to shorten their hours due to fewer customers stopping by on their travel between McCall and Boise. 

The Highway 55 closure is an important example of how Idaho’s infrastructure is vulnerable to climate change-related incidents – like rockslides. These events negatively impact the health of Idaho’s infrastructure and cause cascading impacts on our economy. As weather and climate-related events worsen, Idahoans can expect to see more delays, closures, and expensive repairs to roads and bridges.

The recently released Infrastructure Report from the Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment (ICEIA) explains that the major threats to Idaho’s road systems due to climate change are avalanches, flooding, wildfires, and landslides/mudslides. The ICEIA climate and water reports establish that climate change is likely to increase overall temperatures, increase risk and likelihood of wildfires, and lead to changes in precipitation patterns. This means that Idaho’s roads will be increasingly impacted by dangerous weather and climatic events in the coming years. 

Increasing the resiliency of Idaho’s transportation system is of utmost importance for our economy.

So how do we do it?

Idaho Conservation League advocates to expand public transportation, create safe routes for walking and biking, and replace fossil fuels with electrified vehicles. We partner with the Boise Bike Project and others on the Canals Connect Communities project to create safe walking and biking routes along irrigation canals across the Treasure Valley. We work with the Idaho Office of Energy and Minerals to finance electric vehicle charging stations in communities across Idaho, and we support Avista’s plan to invest in EV charging systems for rural North Idaho. To prepare for the future, we asked Idaho Power to model the electric system impacts of putting 500,000 electric cars onto Idaho’s grid by 2040. Results: the grid is ready, and electric prices will remain the same.  

Transportation pollution is Idaho’s leading air quality and climate problem. By investing in cleaner alternatives, Idaho can keep the $2.2 billion dollars we spend annually to import gasoline. By investing in public transit, we address Idaho’s growing traffic congestion. These investments to reduce pollution are the solution to the climate impacts on Idaho’s infrastructure.  

Join us and call on Idaho policymakers to invest the massive state budget surplus in helping us transition to local, clean, and affordable power instead of continuing to import dirty, expensive fossil fuels.