By 2040, the Treasure Valley is supposed to have more than 1 million people, according to estimates from the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, or COMPASS, compared with the 669,830 it was estimated to have had as of April.
How will they get to work?
One of the key tenets of Boise’s Transportation Action Plan is the acknowledgement that the city can’t build its way out of congestion, said Daren Fluke, Boise’s comprehensive planning manager.
Consequently, a number of regional agencies are working on ways to encourage people to get to work other than by driving alone in their cars – or single-occupancy vehicles, to use the industry parlance. And residents want that, according to Boise State University’s School of Public Service second annual Treasure Valley Survey. Nearly three quarters of all respondents said their community could use more mass transit options, and 34 percent said they would like to see public transportation as a public spending priority.
Additional transit options do more than reduce traffic. They also make it easier for people who can’t drive, such as the disabled, new refugees, or others who can’t afford cars, to work. In one Nampa neighborhood, 20 percent of residents said they had difficulty getting to the places they needed to because of transportation concerns, said Karla Nelson, a community planner for the city of Nampa.
The problem is how to pay for it. Idaho is one of only two states – the other being Mississippi – that doesn’t have a dedicated funding source for public transit.
“We’re really hamstrung by the Legislature not allowing us to ask our citizens to fund this another way,” Fluke said. Other than resort cities, Idaho cities and counties are not granted local option taxing authority, which would let residents vote to tax themselves to pay for projects such as public transit.
Boise contributes $7 million – the largest amount of the Treasure Valley cities – toward the ValleyRide fixed-route transit service. “That $7 million comes from the General Fund, which is a competitive place for money,” because it also funds services such as police, fire, and parks departments, Fluke said. “By the time those three are paid for, there’s not a lot of money left.”
And that’s true for cities throughout the Treasure Valley. In Canyon County, for example, there is federal funding – on the order of $700,000 to $1 million – that ValleyRide can’t get because there aren’t enough local dollars to provide the required match, said Kelli Badesheim, executive director of Valley Regional Transit or VRT, the Meridian-based governing body that operates ValleyRide.
Lack of public transportation is costing commuters money
The thing is, residents are spending money on transportation anyway, said Stephen Hunt, VRT’s principal planner. While the Treasure Valley spends $15 million on public transit, it spends $1.5 billion annually on the operation and maintenance of cars, he said.
For people who don’t want to be car-dependent, the options boil down to ValleyRide, Commuteride, walking, or riding a bicycle, said Matt Stoll, executive director for COMPASS, in Meridian. COMPASS is the metropolitan planning organization for Ada and Canyon counties, which coordinates long-term transportation plans for the region.
VRT’s update to its Valley Connect plan, Valley Connect 2.0, is due to go the board in January, get public comment, and then be finalized by April, Badesheim said. “The main difference is that it’s actually going to have scenarios,” she said. VRT wants to demonstrate the gap between where it is today, and where it should be to achieve the levels it should have by 2040, she said.
Boise is also working on other bus alternatives within city limits such as its proposed downtown fixed guideway (rail) station, as well as a State Street rapid transit bus line, a five- to seven-year construction project that is starting as soon as this month at Veterans Memorial Parkway, Fluke said.
Commuteride, a division of the Ada County Highway District, has for two years provided the website MyCommuterCrew.com, which lets people enter their typical commuting routes and find commuting alternatives, said
Kathleen Godfrey, Commuteride marketing outreach. Commuteride is also working with more than 100 Treasure Valley companies on customizable subsites that let people share rides with others, sometimes in the same organization, such as St. Luke’s Health System or Boise State University, she said. Within each company, Commuteride tries to find an employee transportation coordinator to promote transportation options, such as through subsidies and other incentives, she said. The service has 2700 users.
For pedestrians and bicyclists, Boise and Nampa are each working on projects to improve access, such as making crossings safer. Such projects give commuters options, Fluke said.
“What transit is about is helping give people freedom to move throughout the region to fully live their lives,” Badesheim said. “If it requires you to own your own vehicle to participate in society, that says something and comes at a real cost to everyone who wants to participate.”
Boise State University School of Public Service survey
Boise State University’s School of Public Service released its second annual Treasure Valley Survey Oct. 19. The survey asked 1,000 adult residents of Ada, Boise, Canyon, Gem and Owyhee Counties for their opinions on a variety of topics, including economic development, employment, housing, taxes and public spending priorities.
Nearly three-quarters of all respondents said their community could use more mass transit options – a 7 percent increase from the previous year – and 34 percent said they would like to see public transportation as a public spending priority, the highest of the several transportation options listed, survey authors said.
When asked what the Treasure Valley’s top transportation priority should be, 29.9 percent said commuter rail and 23 percent said bus routes. Respondents were also asked to rate, on a scale from 1-7, how difficult or easy it is for them to get to a particular place, with 1 being very difficult and 7 being very easy.
Some places were found to be quite easy for Treasure Valley residents to get to; for example, about three-fourths of respondents rated grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and entertainment and recreation as either a 6 or 7. However, only about one-half of respondents found access to educational or employment opportunities equally easy to get to, Boise State reported.
Access to social services and community resources fared least well. Only 40 percent of respondents rated access to social services or community services as either a 6 or 7; 41 percent rated access to social services as a 3, 4, or 5.
If Boise had the transit funding of comparable cities
If Valley Ride could get the same level of funding as comparable cities like Spokane, Wash., Tucson, Arizona or Madison, Wisc., what could it do?
Stephen Hunt, principal planner for Valley Regional Transit, laid out some possibilities:
· Nine or more “frequent corridors” that would have buses every 10 to 15 minutes, at least during peak periods, and operating until at least 9 p.m., with some operating until 10 pm or midnight. These corridors could include Fairview, Vista, Overland, State, Cherry, Nampa-Caldwell, 16th Ave., and Garrity
· Express services that connected Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian, and Boise along 44, Chinden, and I-84, also every 15 minutes at least during peak periods, and supported by park-and-ride lots
“There’s every reason to believe it could be done here within five to 10 years if the funding were to be made available,” he said.
This story was modified at 9 a.m. on January 5 to say that Boise’s other bus alternative proposals within city limits include a downtown fixed guideway (rail) station.