IBR Panel: Transportation’s future in Idaho

Idaho Business Review’s ongoing Breakfast Series event at The Grove Hotel.

Transportation plays a pivotal role in shaping the local business economy of Idaho, and its impact is only growing stronger. From bustling cities to remote rural communities, the transportation infrastructure in the Gem State acts as a vital conduit for commerce, fostering trade, connectivity, and economic expansion. As Idaho’s population continues to increase and industries diversify, efficient and reliable transportation networks have emerged as catalysts for business growth, propelling the state’s economy to new heights.

Four expert panelists – Elaine Clegg, Rebecca L. Hupp, Seth Olsen, Chris Williges – explored the future of transportation in Idaho’s cities and rural communities and the economic impact of Idaho’s transportation infrastructure at Idaho Business Review’s ongoing Breakfast Series event June 6 at The Grove Hotel.

Event moderator Steve Frinsko, business practice group leader with event-presenting sponsor Hawley Troxell, led the discussion. Here are some of the highlights:

Frinsko: What is your perspective of transportation in the valley?

Chris Williges, economics and statistics director at HDR.

Williges:  “When people think about transportation, they normally think in terms of, ‘I have congestion, I need to fix that.’ But they don’t think about the fact that transportation really impacts the economy. And if you think back to the interstate highway system and why we built it, it was built for a defense purpose, but it was also built for economic development. When you think about transportation, construction, you should be thinking about how you are supporting that local economy.”

Olsen: “Right now, people in this valley spend billions, personally, to travel around. As inflation has been getting worse, and the lack of wage growth we’ve seen in the middle class–those are the folks that are getting squeezed, and part of the place they’re getting squeezed is on their disposable income. If they have to spend 25% of it on travel, that’s money they can’t spend in the valley on other things and money that would stay in the valley. We’re hoping to introduce a system that more people can use more easily or conveniently, but also one that will change the pattern of how we spend our money.”


Frinsko: Speaking of travel, what’s going on at the Boise Airport right now?

Rebecca Hupp, CEO of Boise Airport.

Hupp: “We have been undertaking a very aggressive capital development campaign to accommodate the growth that we’re seeing with the airport. I never thought parking would be the highlight of my career, but it is incredibly important to everyone who travels—parking is one of the highlights, and we will open our new parking expansion this summer. Passenger travel is up to 12% year to date. So we’re seeing very strong demand for travel in Boise and we’re seeing people probably travel for longer.”


Frinsko: We’ve heard of the Pioneer line potentially coming back, could you give us an update on that?

Elaine Clegg, CEO of Regional Valley Transit.

Clegg: “There’s $66 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure law over five years for trains. It’s over 10 times what we’ve spent as a country on railroads in forever, and certainly in decades. Part of that includes money to do a long distance study of routes that were discontinued in the past. One of those routes is Pioneer. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)  is charged with developing a recommendation for Congress by November 15 of this year, and from that recommendation, Congress will determine which of those routes they will direct Amtrak to add back into the national system. So, we’re very hopeful that the Pioneer will both get that recommendation from FRA and get that vote from Congress. When it comes time, we’ll let you all know who you can contact to help with that vote, I think there may be some action there.”

Frinsko: What’s going on with Highway 16?

Seth Olsen, senior geotechnical engineer at Innovative Geotechnical.

Olsen: “They’re doing Phase 2 right now, which is the connection from Chinden Blvd. down to the freeway. There is a Phase 3 that will make transportation easier and better–more of a limited access highway that makes it easier to move across the valley. Highway 16 is really an example of the growth of Idaho, it’s of the highest in the country. So, we need to do what we can to try and stay ahead of that. Transportation is a big piece of that, and how we help people move in one way or another. Highway 16 has been in the works for years and years, and it has been an ongoing effort and will continue to be so as there are plans to extend it north from Highway 44 once Phase 3 is done.”


Frinsko:  Let’s take a look at the bus system, what is on the horizon there, and the urban transportation issues we’re seeing in the Treasure Valley.

Clegg: “I often hear, ‘well, I see empty buses all over the place. Why? Why should we support you?’ We have empty buses because frankly, sometimes in the day, they’re empty just like the roads are empty. We also have empty buses because some of our routes can’t run very frequently. Right now, most of our routes only come once an hour–maybe if you support the 15 minute circuits on that bus, it wouldn’t be empty. So, I hope that we can begin thinking about transit a little bit differently, not about what is, but about what might be, just like we think about highways–what might be if we made that investment. And what might be, I believe in this valley is that we would move a lot more people a lot more efficiently, than through whitening roads.”

Frinsko: We’ve heard about the various methods of transportation. Could you talk more about how all of these impact our economy and its growth? 

Williges: “Moving goods from a manufacturer’s standpoint, if you can move goods easily, it just makes operations a lot easier. From a person’s standpoint, it means that you can get to and from work, which is great for you, but it’s also great for your employer. It means that you have a greater catchment area both for goods and for people, and things can move well. That means that you have better supply networks, it also means you have better labor market matching, which means, as a person, you have easier access to more jobs, and maybe you’ll find a job that fits you best. And from the employer’s standpoint, they can just find that perfect employee, and so transportation has the ability to make firms much more efficient. From the economic developer’s standpoint, if you can have good transportation, whether it’s highways or rail or buses or whatever it is. If you’re an economic developer and you’re trying to attract employers or you’re trying to attract people to the region, you want infrastructure.”

Frinsko: Is there anything in particular that we should be keeping an eye on that didn’t quite get there this year?

Olsen: “There’s always more that can be done, right?  We all know that it comes down to the decisions that we have to make as a public and what we vote for, and how we support our legislators and local leaders as well. If you get the support from the members of your community, you can provide a lot of things that you never thought possible if you get that support from the people that live there.”

No business lounge planned at Boise Airport yet

photo of airport lounge
Airport lounges, like this one in Lisbon, Portugal, are growing in numbers and use worldwide. Photo by Sharon Fisher

The Boise Airport has a plan to add $200 million of upgrades, but that isn’t likely to include a business lounge, according to administrators.

“The Boise Airport is always looking for ways to expand amenities offered for passengers,” said Seth Briggs, marketing manager for the Boise Airport, in an email message. “Currently, there are no plans for a business lounge at the Boise Airport. However, as new or currently leased space becomes available, the airport would issue an RFP, which would open up the possibilities of a business lounge concept.”

For many travelers, an airport or business lounge is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the airport, with amenities such as free food, drinks and even showers and massages — not to mention, plentiful electrical outlets and WiFi. People buy memberships, pay by the day or get lounge access as a credit card benefit. Individual airlines, credit card companies such as American Express and lounge-only companies such as Priority Pass provide them, and their development and use has been growing.

photo of bill connors
Bill Connors

“Anything that makes business travel easier and more productive is something we have always supported,” Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber said in an email message. But it isn’t clear that one is needed, he continued.

“I use the airport frequently, and flight delays and cancellations are pretty rare, and that’s when people use these lounges most,” Connors said. “Our airport is so efficient, I’m not sure a lounge would attract enough users. … The other times they are used frequently are between major connections at hub airports. We are not a major hub.”

Among the upgrades in the works at Boise Airport are three parking garages and a concourse, which will be built in the next five years.

Boise celebrates renovated airport fire station

photo of fire station
Boise recently renovated Station #19 at the airport, one of several such projects over the past couple of years. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

In a continuing effort to improve Boise’s fire suppression ability, the city recently held another in a series of fire station renovation and construction grand openings, with the renovation of Station #19 at Boise Airport.

“People ask if I get tired of fire station ribbon cuttings,” said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. “I never do.”

Two more are planned, he added — celebrations that involve uncoupling two connected sections of fire hose rather than cutting a ribbon.

photo of hose uncoupling.
From left, Dennis Doan, fire chief; Mayor Dave Bieter, Lauren McLean, city council member; and Rebecca Hupp, airport director, ceremoniously uncouple a fire hose. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Station #19 is an Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) station, a special category that can perform evacuation and rescue of aircraft in a ground emergency. As such, renovation of the station, as well as some of its equipment, is partially funded by the federal government and can be used only for airport purposes, said Paul Roberts, division chief of special operations for the Boise Fire Department.

Bieter said that 350 aircraft take off every day from the Boise Airport. Firefighters at the station have to meet a number of stringent requirements, such as being able to reach the end of the farthest runway in three minutes, including time for suiting up, said Rebecca Hupp, airport director.

Station #19 was originally dedicated in January 1990. Renovations included making the station 100% compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and adding gender-neutral facilities. The living quarters and kitchen were remodeled, and a 4,200-square-foot apparatus bay was added.

In addition, the station is following Boise’s plans for green buildings by reducing its energy use intensity from 115 kBtu/ft^2 to 28 kBtu/ft^2 through elements such as solar tubes to allow in natural light, light fixtures with motion sensors, high-efficiency windows, energy-efficient appliances and HVAC and radiant heating in the apparatus bay, according to the city of Boise.

“We appreciate that you train so much for what we hope will never happen,” said Boise City Council member Lauren McLean, whom Bieter credited with the fire station’s emphasis on sustainability.

The total cost for design and construction of the renovated facility was $4.5 million, of which the federal government paid approximately $3.9 million.

Because of its designation as an ARFF, this fire station houses three specialized pieces of firefighting apparatus, designed to respond to aircraft emergencies. Five firefighters staff the station, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The station has exceeded Federal Aviation Administration requirements for the past four years, Bieter said.

In particular, the station has two fire trucks — due to the airport’s size — that can spout water from the front instead of the back, which makes it easier for them to reach an aircraft on the runway, Roberts said. The trucks can spray foam as well. Each truck costs about $900,000 and has a lifespan of about 15 years, which they are each halfway through, he said. Like the station itself, they are largely funded by the federal government, and as such can be used only at the airport, he said.

In addition to the fire station #19 renovation, the Boise Fire Department opened its Fire Training Center in May 2018; Fire Station #8 on Overland Road in May 2017 and Fire Station #4 on Ustick Road in June 2017. Fire Station #9 on State Street, which was demolished last year, has a new station scheduled to open this summer, while Fire Station #5 on 16th Street is expected to be completed in 2020. These additional fire station projects were funded in November 2014 by a bond voted on by Boise residents, which received 76% approval.

According to the March 2019 report, U.S. Fire Department Profile 2017, 44% of fire departments covering populations the size of Boise have 10 to 19 fire stations, while another 44% have 20 to 29 fire stations. Boise now has 19, including an inactive one in Hidden Springs that is not staffed, plus the fire training facility.

Boise Airport expands a storm water retention pond

Boise Airport is expanding a storm retention pond that filled to capacity in winter 2016-17. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.

Boise Airport has been working since Aug. 20 on expanding the storm water retention pond next to Firehawk Helicopters along Wright Street.

The $148,000 work will expand the 15,000-cubic-yard retention pond to 21,000 cubic yards to accommodate unusual storm events with excessive precipitation, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

The massive winter 2016-17 snowfall filled this pond at the northwest side of the airfield to capacity, encouraging the airport to expand it, even though overflowing water flows west to another retention pond and infiltrates into the ground, Briggs said.

The expansion also upgrades a natural spillway to a concrete spillway.

Boise Airport has eight storm water retention ponds.

The general contractor is Western Idaho Construction and Landscape. Completion is expected in October.

Boise Airport sees record passenger counts in 2017

Boise Airport. File photo.
Boise Airport. The largest airport in Idaho handled a record 3.51 million passengers in 2017. File photo.

Fueled by population growth, larger aircraft and more flights to popular destinations, Boise Airport handled a record 3.51 million passengers in 2017, a 9 percent increase over 2016. The number surpassed the prior 2007 record for most passengers at 3.36 million, the airport reported.

Sean Briggs
Sean Briggs

The average number of seats available each day increased from 5,669 to 6,017, while average passenger load remained flat at about 83 and total average daily departures increased only slightly from 61 to 63 flights, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

More seats became available as Alaska Airlines and American upgraded flights to Seattle and Dallas, respectively, from smaller regional jets to Boeing 737 jets. The larger jets carry about twice as many passengers, he said.

“The Boise Airport has seen steady growth for nearly four years now, posting 45 consecutive months of year-over-year passenger growth”, Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said.

Since 2010, the Boise population has grown by more than 7 percent and Meridian has seen growth exceed 25 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau in December declared Idaho the No. 1 fastest growing state in the nation.

Frontier Airlines will return to the Boise market in March with three flights weekly to Denver, and Southwest Airlines will begin daily service to San Jose in April.

Southwest adds Boise-San Jose flight

Southwest Airlines will add a San Jose flight in April. File photo
Southwest Airlines will add a San Jose flight in April. File photo.

Southwest Airlines will add San Jose, Calif., to its Boise Airport lineup on April 8.

Southwest will offer one flight a day in each direction with different departure times for weekdays and weekdays, according to an airport news release.

The Monday-to-Friday flight leaves Boise at 2:25 p.m. and arrives in San Jose at 3:05 p.m. The return flight departs San Jose at 12:50 p.m. and touches down in Boise at 3:20 p.m.

The weekend flight leaves Boise at 3:30 p.m. and gets to San Jose at 4:10 p.m. The return flight lifts off from San Jose at 3:25 p.m. and arrives in Boise at 5:55 p.m.

Southwest added Sacramento in 2016 and San Diego in June to the Boise Airport flight schedule. Southwest has eight destinations from Boise.

Southwest will add competition for Alaska Airlines, which also flies one flight a day between Boise and  San Jose. San Jose is the 14th most common destination from Boise Airport, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

Frontier will return to Boise Airport in spring

Frontier Airlines is returning to Boise Airport after a seven-year absence. Photo from the Frontier Airlines Facebook page.
Frontier Airlines is returning to Boise Airport after a seven-year absence. Photo from the Frontier Airlines Facebook page.

Boise is one of 21 new cities that Frontier Airlines will start serving in spring, the airline announced July 18.

Frontier, which bills itself as an ultra-low-price carrier, will offer nonstop roundtrip service between Boise and Denver, where the airline is based. Frontier previously had nonstop service between Boise and Denver from 2002 to 2011, Boise Airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

“Denver is their hub, so there will be a lot of connecting flights,” Briggs said. “What we know is spring 2018. We don’t know what kind of aircraft, what times they are going to fly. That’s still up in the air.”

Boise Airport already serves Denver with two daily roundtrips from discount carrier Southwest Airlines and four daily roundtrips from United Airlines, Briggs said.

The Boise move is part of a Frontier network expansion that will increase the number of cities served by the airline about 30 percent, to 82, cities and provide more than double the routing options to more than 1,000 routes, according to the Frontier release.

Allegiant adds Phoenix-Mesa at Boise Airport

Allegiant Air will start nonstop service between Boise and Phoenix-Mesa on Oct. 6. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.
Allegiant Air will start nonstop service between Boise and Phoenix-Mesa on Oct. 6. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.

Allegiant Air will add a third no-frills, low-price destination on Oct. 6 from Boise Airport with twice-a-week service to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Boise Airport announced.

Allegiant will have Monday and Friday departures and arrivals in both cities. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway is in suburban Mesa, Ariz.

Allegiant is the airline where you pay extra for seat selection and carry-on bags, but the listed air fare for an Oct. 6 to Oct. 10 round trip to Phoenix is $113 plus an extra $38 to select a seat and carry on a bag in both directions. The lowest Southwest Airlines roundtrip on those dates is $322 and on American Airlines is $234.

Allegiant first arrived in Boise in October 2012 with a route to Las Vegas, where the airline is based, and added Los Angeles in June 2015, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

Allegiant focuses on linking small cities to “world-class destinations.” Phoenix-Mesa is one of nine focus cities and operations bases for Allegiant, serving 36 nonstop destinations, including Idaho Falls, according to the Allegiant website.

Phoenix is the fifth largest destination from Boise Airport behind Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Los Angeles, though Phoenix and Las Vegas alternate for the fifth slot, Briggs said.

Boise Airport area will get a Comfort Inn and Suites

Construction started in early May on a 108-room Comfort Inn & Suites near Boise Airport. Photo by Teya Vitu.
Construction started in early May on a 108-room Comfort Inn & Suites near Boise Airport. Photo by Teya Vitu.

A small, Tulsa, Okla.-based hotel group chose Boise to build its first hotel beyond its neighboring states.

Burton Hotel Group started construction May 2 on a four-story, 108-room Comfort Inn & Suites Boise Airport on Elder Street, a half mile west of the hotel cluster on the same street.

The Comfort Inn should be open next March, said Joanna Craddock, Burton’s regional sales director.

Burton owns and operates four other hotels: Sleep Inn & Suites in Round Rock, Midland and South Tyler, all in Texas, and a Comfort Suites in Carlsbad, N.M.

Burton looked at Colorado and New Orleans before selecting Boise for its next hotel. Until now, Burton, established in 2007, focused on building hotels in the oil market.

“Boise just spoke to us in the how the market is changing currently,” Craddock said, referring to dozens of hotels under construction across Idaho. “I will say, everyone we talked to who lives in Boise, they love it.”

Burton for now intends to build only one hotel in Idaho, she said.

BRS Architects of Boise is the architect. Wright Brothers the Building Company of Eagle is the general contractor.

American announces nonstop flights between Boise and Chicago

American Airlines will start nonstop flights July 5 between Boise and Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
American Airlines will start nonstop flights July 5 between Boise and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

American Airlines will start flying nonstop flights between Boise Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport on July 5, the airport announced.

American’s one daily departure will give Boise three daily departures, along with two by United Airlines, to O’Hare, which is the nation’s second busiest airport. In summer, Boise also has seasonal Southwest Airlines nonstop flights to Chicago’s Midway Airport.

Flights from Boise will depart at 1 p.m. with a 5:30 p.m. arrival in Chicago. The return flight departs Chicago at 9:20 a.m. and arrives in Boise at 12:25 p.m., according to airport spokesman Sean Briggs.

American will fly a 70-seat Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet, similar to United’s 76-seat Embraer ERJ-175 regional jet that flies to Chicago O’Hare, Briggs said.

“Over the years, when we met with American, Chicago is something we talk about,” Briggs said.

Tickets for the American flights go on sale March 12.

“Additional Chicago service is a big win for the Treasure Valley’s business community and residents,” Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said in a news release. “American Airlines has hundreds of connections from Chicago O’Hare, making East Coast and international travel a little bit easier.”

Southwest adds BOI to San Diego nonstop flight

Southwest Airlines will have a new nonstop to San Diego taking off from Boise Airport in June. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.
Southwest Airlines will offer a new nonstop to San Diego taking off from Boise Airport in June. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.

Southwest Airlines will start weekday nonstop service June 4 between Boise and San Diego, Boise Airport reported.

The Southwest flight on a 143-seat Boeing 737 aircraft joins the one daily flight to San Diego now offered by Alaska Airlines via a 73-seat Skywest Airlines flights.

The Southwest flight will only fly Monday to Friday with a Boise departure at 1:35 p.m., arriving in San Diego at 2:50 p.m. and a San Diego departure at 9:30 a.m. that touches down in Boise at 12:40 p.m.

San Diego is the eighth most popular origin and destination city at Boise Airport with 92,514 passengers flying both ways between July 2015 and June 2016 with a 9 percent increase in passengers from November to November over the prior year, airport spokesman Sean Briggs said.

“We talk to Southwest about a number of routes that might make sense (such as San Diego),” Briggs said. “We talked about LAX when we met with them in Denver in June 2016 at JumpStart.”

The JumpStart Air Service Development Conference is an annual speed dating event between airport officials and airlines, with 20 minutes allotted to each meeting before each party moves on to the next talk.

“We are extremely pleased with the additional service to southern California,” Briggs said.

Southwest Airlines entered the Boise market in 1994 and now has nonstop service between Boise and Sacramento, Denver, Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, and Spokane with seasonal service to Chicago Midway.


Boise Airport will update long-term facility needs

File photo
File photo

Boise Airport will spend the next year and change updating its master plan to get the airport ready to see passenger counts swell from about 3.2 million to a projected 4.5 million in 2035.

Since late summer, Eau Claire, Wisc.,-based consultant Mead & Hunt has built an inventory of the airport’s existing facilities and services and prepared a forecast of expected activities for the next 20 years, said Damon Smith, aviation services leader for Mead & Hunt’s Northwest division.

A second open house for the master plan update on Dec.14 presented a sense of broad objectives for the next 20 years.

“It’s an interesting time because Boise is seeing growth above the national average,” Airport Director Rebecca Hupp said. “We are looking at how the airport will meet the additional demand for services.”

Rebecca Hupp
Rebecca Hupp

A 2 percent increase is expected each year in aircraft movement, passenger county and cargo tonnage as averaged over the long term, Smith said.

The master plan update will analyze airfield, terminal and landside needs to address future demands. Landside includes parking, roads and business development, Smith said.

Potential facility needs will be specified in late spring, he said.

The Mead & Hunt report is an update of Boise Airport’s 2010 30-year master plan.