by Andrew Crisp
Two companies serving routes in limited parts of the Gem State could net bigger markets thanks to federal funding. The Idaho Transportation Department is accepting bids from companies to service a route along the western corridor of the state, running from Boise in the south to Bonner's Ferry in the north.
Northwestern Trailways operates routes in Ellensburg, Everett and Spokane, Wash., with service to Lewiston and other areas. Salt Lake Express offers routes between Boise and Idaho Falls, and from as far as Butte, Mont., to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Both companies are submitting applications to take up the service as part of ITD's intercity transportation initiatives. Ted Vanegas, senior transportation planner at ITD, said the funds are part of a federal program to stimulate transportation options in underserved markets.
"They provide a match to receive federal money," said Ted Vanegas. "We have about $850,000 we can use on intercity programs, and we have a number of prioritized corridors. Coeur d'Alene to Boise is the No. 1priority."
The funds would subsidize routes to establish constant service between the northern and southern regions of Idaho. Coeur d'Alene would serve as a major northern hub, Boise as a southern endpoint, with Grangeville as pit stop for carriers to change out drivers.
Vanegas said the Idaho Mobility Council will select one of the companies to service the corridor when members meet in September.
"Whoever is awarded that service by the Idaho Mobility Council, they'll be awarded the service of that corridor and will have to provide local matching funds."
He said that the program pushes the servicer to reach 70 percent sustainability within three years. Heather Wheeler, executive director of the nonprofit Community Transportation Association of Idaho, said excess funds could be used for other Idaho regions.
"The more that the routes can use fewer federal transportation dollars, the more that can be invested in other Idaho transportation corridors," said Wheeler.