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In 2010 the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) approached the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) with the idea of creating a database of images, not only for agency-wide access, but also to make the images available to the public. In addition to the images already held at the Idaho State Archives (ISA), images from the main and regional transportation offices have been collected and included in the digitization project to be made available in this database.  This project represents a significant effort to preserve the photographic history of transportation projects in Idaho.  


Organization History

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, Idaho's transportation system is the backbone of the state's economy. The goal of the organization is to secure safe and efficient roads, bridges, airports, railroads and ports in order to promote the expansion of Idaho's economy.[1]  The history of this organization is a history of moving people and goods, connecting all parts of Idaho to national and international transportation networks. Idaho’s transportation history predates this modern institution, but the organization inherited the same goals and challenges as its many predecessors.


Idaho’s Territorial government, established in 1863, faced the difficult task of overseeing all roads, highways, thoroughfares, and trails crossing through the vast, topographically challenging wilderness with very little funds and limited sources of labor.  Most roads built during the Territorial Period were private enterprises paid for and maintained by various toll road franchises.  Between 1864 and 1867 Idaho’s private transportation network consisted of 26 ferries, 13 bridges, and 43 roads that charged a toll to users at strategic points.  By 1872 Idaho’s Territorial Legislature openly recognized the important relationship between highways and state development, calling for better connections between the industrial districts, counties, and the capitol.[2] 


The County Road Act of 1881 provided a legal basis for free roads and bridges, and even addressed the need for labor by requiring that: 


“Every male resident from 21 to 50 years of age, excepting the infirm and person who were public charges, were required to perform two days’ work per year on county roads.  In addition, one day of work was required per $1,000 assessed value of real property owned.  In lieu of labor, a cash payment at the rate of $2.00 per day could be made.”[3]  


By the time Idaho achieved statehood in 1890, however, it still had no state roads or highways to speak of, as the Territorial Government had been unable to fund the vast projects required to traverse Idaho’s mountainous topography.  In 1905 Idaho residents began establishing various Good Road Districts, and then in 1907 the first State Highway Commission was established and charged with the supervision and maintenance of all roads built with state funds.  By 1912, however, Idaho still did not have a permanent state highway system.  Between 1911 and 1913 Governor Hawley addressed Idaho’s road problems by instituting the first permanent, and up to that point, the most effective State Highway Commission.  


The Idaho State Legislature established the State Highway Commission in 1913 and the Bureau of Public Roads as early as 1916 in order to participate in national Federal Aid highway funding programs, financing some of Idaho’s earliest highway projects.  In 1919, the Commission was abolished and its functions were transferred to a Bureau of Highways in the Department of Public Works.  A property tax was enacted by the Legislature and bonds were issued to meet the state’s financial obligations for the construction of statewide highway systems. 


Today Idaho's transportation system is comprised of a statewide network of more than 60,000 miles of road, around 4,000 bridges, 1,900 miles of rail lines, 125 public airports, and the Port of Lewiston. Of these, the transportation department has jurisdictional responsibility for almost 5,000 miles of highway (or 12,000 lane miles), more than 1,700 bridges, and 30 recreational and emergency airstrips. Also included on the State Highway System are 30 rest areas and 10 fixed ports of entry. 


[2] Council Memorial No. 3 (December, 1872)

[3]Idaho’s Highway History 1863-1975, Idaho Transportation Department (Boise, 1985) p. 19 

For information on Idaho's Highways 



How To Cite This Collection

In order to properly cite this collection, please record the following information: 

  • Item Description (Title or Description)
  • Collection Information (Identifier)
  • Repository Information (Idaho State Archives)


Maintenance Projects V-Type Snow Plow 1935-1936 (Description), U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (Collection Name), MS281_05946 (Collection No.) Box 10 Folder 18, Idaho State Archives, Accessed December 16, 2017.



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