Stretching roughly 3.1 million miles, rural roads comprise 80% of all U.S. road miles, according to a 2017 U.S. Department of Transportation report.
The cost to upkeep those roads largely falls on city and county governments, the report said. With rural communities having a much smaller tax base than urban areas, that burden can be cumbersome.
In the Treasure Valley, growth has led to the immediate need for rural communities to fund transportation projects.
Middleton Mayor Steve Rule said his city "doesn't have the type of funding to build these 3 to 4 million dollar projects."
"When it comes to transportation issues, it is money that is holding us back," Rule said.
Middleton city officials have been trying to get an alternative route, or bypass, to ease traffic on State Highway 44, which becomes a two-lane road when it passes through the heart of Middleton. With a bypass, commuter traffic would be diverted away from downtown, and the existing highway would serve local traffic instead.
"There are about two to three times a day when you can't get through Middleton on Highway 44," Rule said.
East-west Idaho 44 serves commuters from Boise to Caldwell, but also local travelers trying to go shopping in downtown Middleton. There are also schools and parks along Idaho 44, so traffic backs up dramatically during busy times, according to residents and elected officials.
Jake Melder, Idaho Transportation Department spokesman, said the estimated daily traffic on Idaho 44 in Middleton was about 12,000 in 2018. This was the latest data available.
The estimated vehicle count on that road section in 2008 was 5,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day.
The proposed Middleton bypass, which falls under the Idaho Transportation Department's jurisdiction, is tentatively planned for south of the city, but there's no funding yet.
“Unless funding changes, there is no timeline on when the alternate route will be constructed,” ITD spokesman Jake Melder said by email.
Rule said the city is also looking to expand Cemetery and Middleton roads to ease traffic on Idaho 44. It is a city project with some support from ITD. Rule did not have a timeline on the project.
"Middleton is a poster child for transportation issues," Rule said. "We are trying to address them and we are making progress, but it just takes so much money."
Rule said the city is looking at using impact fees to pay for transportation to "have growth pay for itself."
He said he'd like to see the burden of cost for transportation projects fall on the users in forms of a tax on vehicle registration.
"Transportation is not getting funded and here in Middleton it is not being funded and we are falling behind," Rule said.
Parma Mayor Angie Lee said Parma is yet to encounter the kinds of transportation problems that Nampa, Caldwell and Middleton are facing.
"It is not our way yet," Lee said. "Nampa, Caldwell, Meridian, Eagle, they have more issues with traffic."
Lee did say the city has struggled to provide seniors with adequate public transportation. Parma does not have a bus system or a park-and-ride option, so the senior center uses a ride-share program through Valley Regional Transit to get people to their destinations.
Lee said the city does take on some road improvement and construction projects, but typically only does one project a year.
This year, she said the city replaced a water line on Sixth Street and is working to replace the road when the weather improves.
She said the city has to fund the entire project, but typically gets assistance through grants.
For now, Lee said, the city is making due with the budget it has, but she would eventually like to look into other funding options as the city grows.
CANYON HIGHWAY DISTRICT No. 4
Canyon Highway District No. 4 is one of four highway districts in the county. The district encompasses Caldwell, Middleton, Star and a small portion of Nampa — some of fastest-growing areas in the county.
The district was formed in 1981 to maintain public rights-of-way, roads and bridges in the highway system, excluding state highways and city roads.
Highway District Director Dave Jones said the biggest problem the district faces is the lack funding for transportation projects.
"The other problems that are not self-inflicted are the lack of Congress and Idaho Legislature (efforts) to fund transportation in this state," Jones said. "Because of the way the laws are written, we are being hampered in our stewardship roles."
Jones argued the state should not be giving property tax breaks to employers and big businesses.
"They get exemptions, but in the meantime the highway districts, school districts, ambulance districts pretty much don't have a seat at the table when the commissioners are giving those (tax exemptions) away," Jones said, "We need those funds now. That is hurting schools, fire districts and everybody."
Jones said the Legislature typically pushes off coming up with a funding solution for transportation until "next year," but the district's needs are immediate.