ITD plans upcoming 2020 Canyon and Ada County projects

Almost of half of Idaho’s population lives within Idaho Transportation Department District 3. This means every one of the district’s highway projects will affect more Idaho residents than anywhere else in the state.

District 3 is on track to widen Interstate 84 in Nampa beginning in 2021, but before that can happen, both the Middleton and Ustick overpasses will be replaced this summer.

“There isn’t enough space underneath Ustick and Middleton, so we need to completely replace those structures,” said Mark Campbell, the project manager for the overpass replacements. The project is waiting on approvals for funding, which are expected soon.

“ITD saw some cost savings from the Karcher Road interchange project, and we’re waiting for approval to move those savings to the Ustick and Middleton work,” Campbell told the Idaho Business Review.

The funds involved include part of a $90.24 million federal INFRA highway grant for work on I-84 improvements. This will allow some of the federal GARVEE program money that was originally allocated to the overpass project to help pay for work further west on the interstate next year. Because the funds come the U.S. Department of Transportation, moving the money between projects requires a federal sign-off.

“Once the permission comes through, the work will go out for bid, and construction will begin early this summer,” Campbell added.

The Middleton overpass will be replaced first. Once it was finished, only then would the work on Ustick proceed. Both overpasses will be replaced this year.

“People who live in the area use both of those overpasses,” Campbell remarked. “We didn’t want to obstruct both at the same time, so we’ll fully close Middleton first and completely rip it down.”

At the same time, Ustick will stay open until Middleton Road is reopened. In this way, ITD will be able to keep at least one of the two overpasses between Franklin and Karcher open during construction.

District 3’s other big effort for 2020 is the Chinden Blvd. widening project.

“From now through 2040, ITD plans to widen Chinden, ultimately to six lanes,” said Jake Melder, a spokesman for District 3. “This year, we’ll start by widening five miles of Chinden to four lanes, two in each direction.”

The stretch of Chinden affected carries the designation of U.S. Highway 20/26. It is currently one of the main arterial routes through some of the fastest developing parts of Ada County.

“There are three sections we will widen: one mile between Eagle to Locust Grove with a budget of $11.7 million, one mile between Linder and Meridian Roads at a cost of $8.5 million and three miles between Linder and Highway 16 at a cost of $12.3 million,” Melder explained.

The last three miles had a lower per-mile cost because that segment had less development and lower staging costs than the two more easterly one-mile segments.

“It was also more expensive to acquire rights of way, and it will be more costly to move utilities between Linder and Eagle than for Linder to Highway 16,” Melder remarked.

He also said that all of the widening will take place on the south side of the road, and that future widening to six lanes will take place on the north side.

Committee recommends Idaho allow autonomous vehicles

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Jeff Marker, ITD freight program manager. Photo courtesy of ITD.

A gubernatorial committee on autonomous vehicles has issued a draft report recommending Idaho allow their testing and deployment, but with sidebars to ensure roadways remain safe for everyone, including pedestrians and bicyclists.

The most recent meeting, held on Oct. 16, was the last of three meetings for the committee in its current form. Previous meetings were held on May 30 and Aug. 21. The report is due to the governor by Nov. 1 and was released to the committee in draft form at the meeting, presented by Jeff Marker, Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) freight program manager.

The report’s recommendations include encouraging legislation to allow autonomous vehicle testing and deployment, and coordinating regulatory, policy and standardization decisions to ensure Idaho’s policies don’t conflict with those of other states. Committee members also agreed that it was preferable to write a new code section to include autonomous vehicles (“cooperative automated transportation,” or CAT, the most recent acronym) rather than rewriting existing code because that would take too long and risk introducing errors.

Some sections of code might need to be rewritten, however, because in some cases they are predicated on having a human driver in the vehicle who is in control. Committee members were also encouraged not to require that the operator of the vehicle be a licensed driver, because that would mean that people who are disabled wouldn’t be able to take advantage of autonomous vehicles.

One way to get people used to autonomous vehicles is via public transit, Marker said, adding that Boise State University and Kootenai County were interested.

A significant issue is going to be finding funding to support autonomous vehicles, particularly in rural areas, Marker said. For example, communities that have trouble finding money to pave their roads are going to find it difficult to maintain the striping that autonomous vehicles require, he said. At the same time, without the involvement of rural communities, Idaho runs the risk of having a disconnected road system without the safety and efficiency advantages of autonomous vehicles in rural areas, he said.

In addition, because the majority of autonomous vehicles are expected to be electric, Idaho will continue to face transportation revenue pressures, because highways are currently funded by a gas tax, Marker said. Idaho belongs to a consortium of Northwest states that are looking at other alternatives, such as road user charges, he said.

The draft report also recommends that Idaho study the economic impacts of CAT on issues such as the displacement of workers, disruptive technology leading to new industry, business opportunities and new training opportunities. However, ITD Director Brian Ness said at the first meeting that it was beyond the scope of the committee to answer the financial questions raised by allowing autonomous vehicles.

Marker and Ness, with the support of the rest of the committee, also stressed the importance of staying technology-neutral – in other words, not implementing any requirements or specifications, such as communications protocols, that limited Idaho’s future development options.

What happens to the committee going forward is undetermined, Ness said. A new governor will be elected in November, to take office in January, and that person will determine whether the committee is dissolved completely, continues in some form, or is re-formed with different people, he said.

The Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment Committee was formed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter on Jan. 2 by executive order. Currently, autonomous vehicles are forbidden in Idaho, even for testing. A bill to change this, S.1108, made it through the Senate in 2015, but died in the House transportation committee.

Eight other states are also looking at autonomous vehicles via executive order, while 25 states – including all three states on Idaho’s southern border – have already implemented legislation allowing autonomous vehicles in some form. Nevada is the furthest ahead, having first authorized autonomous vehicles in 2011 and now running a three-stop autonomous shuttle in downtown Las Vegas.

I-84 set for full reopen in Magic Valley by early October

Interstate 84 has undergone reconstruction between Twin Falls and Burley since June 2017. Photo courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.

Eighty-mile-an-hour clear sailing should return in the next week or two on Interstate 84 across the Magic Valley.

Much of the last year and a half has seen 70 mph limits and, since July, just 65 mph on two-lane, two-way roads as the Idaho Transportation Department has been reconstructing a 12-mile stretch of I-84 between Twin Falls and Burley.

The finishing touches on the westbound lanes should be complete by the end of September or early October, ITD spokeswoman Jessica Williams said.

She explained that the work was necessary because of the “age and the state of the roadway.” “The roadway had not been fully reconstructed since it was originally built,” Williams said. “The roadway was potholed, had soft spots, rutting and cracks in it.”

Knife River Corp. started work on the eastbound lanes in late June 2017 with traffic in both directions shifted over to the westbound lanes for an 18-mile stretch.

The original asphalt from the late-1950s and early 1960s was removed and new asphalt was installed with eastbound work completed in November. Westbound pavement removal started in early April, Williams said.

New pavement was installed from Milepost 182 (the Kimberly/Hansen exit and U.S. 50 interchange) to Milepost 194 (the Ridgeway Road exit) in the $23-million project. However, requirements called for shifting traffic for an 18-mile stretch, Williams said.

Five miles of freeway have reopened with the two-lane, two-way traffic remaining on 13 miles.

‘Dig once’ policy could improve Idaho internet

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In Emmett, the city tries to lay fiber optical cable whenever the streets are torn up for another purpose. Photo courtesy of city of Emmett.

The most expensive part of installing fiber optic cabling to provide high-speed broadband internet to a community is the hole. Because entities such as roads, utilities and irrigation districts regularly dig up the ground anyway, some people are calling for a “dig once” policy to make installing cable easier and cheaper.

Such a policy would call for crews to lay fiber optic cabling, or a conduit to hold such cabling later, whenever the ground was dug up for another purpose. Even if a community didn’t need fiber optic cabling yet, a “dig once” policy would mean that it would be there when they were ready.

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Lt. Gov. Brad Little

Idaho doesn’t have a statewide policy, but increasingly people are talking about it. While there is no indication of legislation in the works for the 2019 session, it might be brought in the future. Lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate Brad Little promoted such a policy at the develop.idaho conference on Sept. 12, and several agencies and cities report they at least try to support such a policy.

Improving Idaho’s broadband internet support is important because its internet connection speed ranks last in the nation, according to studies. Access to high-speed broadband internet is increasingly important if Idaho is going to improve its knowledge economy.

On the federal level, the omnibus appropriations act signed by President Donald Trump on March 23 includes “Mobile Now” legislation, which had been pending for the last four years, said Adam Rush, public involvement coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD). “Section 607(b) requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations for broadband within the right of way,” he said. “The transportation department has not yet seen or heard as to the timing of when such regulations may be developed. The language doesn’t mandate and doesn’t require a state to adopt such regulations.”

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Greg Green

Plus, that still leaves a lot of Idaho not covered, said Greg Green, CEO of Fatbeam, a Coeur d’Alene fiber optic company with 25 employees in 32 markets in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona and Nevada. While his company has partnered with ITD in a number of cases in North Idaho, he has to have one-off relationships with all the cities, counties and highway districts in his service area to leverage their excavations.

“It’s hard to manage,” he said. “I’d love to see a more unified effort across the state.”

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Mike Knittel

Emmett is in its second year of creating a fiber-optic backbone by installing cabling in conduit whenever a street is opened up for road restoration or water main repair. “Our policy is an informal one,” said Mike Knittel, systems administrator. “We as department heads agree that any project that we work on will be evaluated for maximum impact when a trench is open.”

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Michelle Groenevelt

McCall, which is rebuilding a number of its downtown streets, is also planning to lay either conduit or fiber optic cabling in the process, said Michelle Groenevelt, community and economic development director. Thinking of it as a utility changes the mindset, she said. “Fiber is part of our infrastructure.”

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Matt Borud

“We do not require it for water or sewer projects,” said Matt Borud, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Department of Commerce, which funds such projects through its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. “However, for downtown revitalization projects that replace sidewalks, we often recommend that the city install conduit for broadband.”

A federal mandate could affect CDBG programs in the future, which sometimes leverage federal funds, he added.

Where such a policy would really be useful is on the local level, said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 44-year-old Minneapolis nonprofit focused on community development policies.

“I don’t think the federal one will do much, and there is no evidence that any such state policies have made a difference,” he said. “Local governments can make a difference with such a policy because they are in charge of the roads that are relevant. Most of us don’t live on an interstate, so the federal policy is more or less an effort to appear to do something rather than actually make a difference. “

And some Idaho entities that dig up the ground don’t see why broadband internet should receive special treatment. “Why is it only for fiber optic?” said Bob Chandler, district manager for the Avondale Irrigation District, in Hayden. “I would guess that if I had to lay conduit for fiber companies, that the fiber companies would have to lay waterline for me when they were doing work.”

New Cloverdale Road bridge should be done next summer

The Cloverdale Road bridge was heavily damaged in a fiery seven-car Interstate-84 accident in June. Photo courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.

Demolition and construction of a new Cloverdale Road bridge over Interstate 84 is expected to go out for bid Oct. 1, an Idaho Department of Transportation official said.

The ambition is to demolish the fire-damaged bridge in mid to late January and have a new bridge with more lanes open in July, ITD spokesman Jake Melder said.

“This is a very accelerated program,” Melder said. “We recognized the importance of Cloverdale Road.”

All freeway traffic will likely be shifted to one side of the freeway on four nights to allow for demolition of half the bridge each night and installations of girders on each side. Lanes may be reduced for installation of a center pier, he said.

“Our hope is to impact freeway travel as little as possible,” Melder said.

The Cloverdale Road bridge over I-84 was damaged in a fiery June 16 seven-vehicle crash that killed four people. The Idaho Transportation Board on June 22 approved $6 million to $8 million to build a new bridge.

The Cloverdale bridge has been closed since the accident.

The new bridge will have four travel lanes, shoulders and sidewalks that reflect Ada County Highway District’s master plan for Cloverdale. The new bridge will have higher clearance over the freeway and will also be built to accommodate a potential widening of I-84 to five lanes in each direction.

The Cloverdale bridge was built in 1966 at the time that Interstate 80N was originally built in Boise.

No on-ramps or off-ramps will be added. Cloverdale falls within the 3.4-mile stretch with no ramps between the Interstate 184 interchange and Eagle Road.

“Folks have been asking if we are putting in off-ramps,” Melder said.

He said ITD has determined the stretch does not meet mobility or congestion standards to warrant additional ramps.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials recommends minimum spacing between interchanges of 1 mile in urban areas and 2 miles in rural areas.

I-84 will be widened between Franklin Boulevard and Karcher Road in Nampa

A third lane in each direction will be added to Interstate 84 in Nampa. Photo courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.

Construction to widen Interstate 84 in Nampa to three lanes between Franklin Boulevard and Karcher Road should start sometime in October after an Aug. 29 confirmation of a $90.2 million federal grant.

This $150 million projects widens another 2.8 miles in a 10-year campaign that has widened 18.7 miles of I-84 between Gowen Road in eastern Boise and Franklin Boulevard.

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) rates widening the Franklin-Karcher stretch as the region’s No. 1 transportation priority.

The existing two-lane configuration in each direction will actually have four lanes. Idaho Transportation Department is also adding an auxiliary lane that starts at Franklin/Karcher and ends at Karcher/Franklin to enable drivers to go from interchange to interchange without having to merge into the main travel lane, ITD spokesman Jake Melder said.

ITD competed for the $90.2 million grant from the $1.5 billion Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA) program established by President Donald Trump.

Completion is estimated for 2012, Melder said.

The project also includes building a new Karcher Road overpass, which will require an eight-to-10-month closure of that crossing.

Temporary lanes will be paved on existing shoulders to maintain two lanes in each direction during peak hours. These temporary lanes will be the first phase of work starting in the October timeframe, Melder said, with lane work starting in summer 2019.

The new lanes will be added in the center median in two phases. The first phase will address both directions between Franklin and Northside Boulevard.

COMPASS, ITD, the city of Caldwell and Canyon County each added $125,000 in matching funds with state funding cover the remaining costs from Transportation Expansion and Congestion Mitigation, the general fund surplus, and a portion of the cigarette tax dedicated to transportation, according to an ITD news release.

Runway at Caldwell airport will get new asphalt

Caldwell Industrial Airport will replace runway asphalt from 1987. Photo courtesy of Rob Oates.

Caldwell Industrial Airport, Idaho’s busiest, has won a $2.148 million federal Airport Improvement Program grant to replace its 31-year-old cracking asphalt runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced the grant June 8 as part of a $677 million program that awarded 241 grants to 346 airport infrastructure projects. The Caldwell airport was the only Idaho airport to get a grant in this allotment, according to the FAA. The airport handles the most departures and arrivals of any Idaho airport.

The airport will remove the 4-inch layer of runway asphalt installed in 1987 and replace it with two two-inch layers of asphalt, airport manager Rob Oates said.

The work will start in mid-August and close the 5,500-foot runway for seven to eight weeks, but flights can continue to take off and land at Caldwell, he added.

“The taxiway will be a temporary runway,” Oates said. “For most normal things, we will operate during daytime hours but nothing at night.”

The taxiway served as the runway when the airport opened in 1976, he noted.

The Caldwell airport had 148,089 takeoffs and landings in 2017, more than any other Idaho airport, said Reid Hollinshead, spokesman at the Idaho Transportation Department.

The Caldwell airport is the busiest in Idaho because many pilots living in Boise, Meridian, Eagle and Star base their two- and four-seat fixed-wing aircraft at Caldwell, saying it is easier to operate out of Caldwell as there are no passenger planes, cargo planes and military aircraft competing for airspace. Caldwell also racks up many takeoffs and landings through the Silverhawk Aviation Academy, which offers federally funded pilot training for veterans, Oates said.

The city of Caldwell will match the FAA grant with about $187,000, and ITD’s Division of Aeronautics, pending approval, will match $122,819, Hollinshead said.

JUB Engineering of Boise designed the runway project. Idaho Materials and Construction is the general contractor.

The Idaho Press first reported this story.

Idaho may get $90 million to widen I-84 in Nampa

A $90.24 million federal grant may come Idaho’s way to fund a large share of widening Interstate 84 in Nampa.

The Idaho Transportation Department and Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho were notified that the region was in line for the federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant to widen a 2.8 section of I-4 between the Karcher Interchange and Franklin Boulevard in Nampa.

COMPASS rates this section of highway as the region’s No. 1 transportation priority. ITD and COMPASS jointly applied for the gant.

The $90 million grant would offset about 60 percent of the projected $150 million project. No timeline is in place on when construction would start, as $60 million still needs to be raised and the grant still requires congressional approval, ITD spokesman Reid Hollinshead said.

“It’s not money in the bank,” Hollinshead said. “There is a 60-day review period in Congress before the award can be made… There is no set-aside or earmarked funding at this point in time (for the other $60 million).”

Canyon County and the city of Caldwell have each committed $125,000 in local matching funds. Caldwell isn’t even in the widening zone.

“I-84 carries over $80 billion of freight annually,” Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas said in a news release. “The impact of the project will extend well beyond construction zone to the rest of southwest Idaho and the state.”

“The importance of this project cannot be understated,” Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said in a release.

ITD calculates nearly 100,000 vehicle trips per day on this Nampa stretch of I-84 with commercial trucks playing a large factor.

The project would widen I-84 to three lanes in each direction, add auxiliary lanes, and replace a number of bridges and an interchange.

Downtown roadwork multiplies in Nampa

Idaho Transportation Department will reconstruct all four sides of Library Square in downtown Nampa. Image courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.

Traffic headaches will multiply in downtown Nampa as the Idaho Department of Transportation repaves or reconstructs several main arteries, including all four sides of Library Square.

This will add to the street reconstruction already underway by the city of Nampa for Second and Third streets east of Library Square from 12th to 16th streets that will continue through late summer.

ITD will repave Second and Third Streets from Library Square west to Northside Boulevard and also repave 11th Avenue from Third Street South to Garrity Boulevard and Garrity Boulevard from 11th Avenue to Grant Street, according to an ITD release.

The $4.75 million project will reconstruct all four streets around Library Square, an additional block of 11th Avenue between First and Second avenues South and the intersection of Northside and Second. This entails removing all layers of existing pavement.

The downtown Nampa streets that will be repaved (yellow) or reconstructed (green). Image courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.

Sidewalk ramps will be replaced throughout the project with new ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The work will start in early June with expected completion in late summer.

ITD will work primarily between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. with varying lane restrictions during the night or day. ITD will maintain access to businesses along the roadways, the release said.

These streets serve as the Interstate 84 business loop in Nampa and fall under the jurisdiction of the Idaho Transportation Department.


Committee ponders autonomous vehicles

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ITD director Brian Ness, right, discusses autonomous vehicles with Department of Commerce Director Bobbi Jo Meulemann. Photo courtesy of ITD.

Autonomous vehicles are “knocking on our door” and Idaho needs to be ready, said Brian Ness, director of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), after the first meeting of a working group on the subject on May 30.

The Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment Committee was formed by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter on January 2 by executive order. Autonomous vehicles are forbidden in Idaho, even for testing. A bill to change this, S.1108, made it through the Senate in 2015, but died in the House transportation committee.

Eight other states are also looking at autonomous vehicles via executive order, while 25 states – including all three states on Idaho’s southern border – have already implemented legislation allowing autonomous vehicles in some form. Nevada is the furthest ahead, having first authorized autonomous vehicles in 2011 and now running a three-stop autonomous shuttle in downtown Las Vegas.

A number of attendees – including department heads of ITD and the Department of Commerce and the owner of used car dealer Fairly Reliable Bob’s – are fine with banning the vehicles in Idaho for now. Idaho should let other states solve the problems that arise with use of the vehicles first. But the state needs to be at the table, Ness said.

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Jeff Marker. Photo courtesy of ITD.

Autonomous vehicles (see box) are being considered for several reasons. First is safety. Currently, 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error, said Jeff Marker, ITD’s freight program manager. Second, vehicles that don’t require as much human intervention could save money on drivers, as well as operate continuously for 24 hours – a particular consideration for the trucking industry.

However, autonomous vehicles face roadblocks. First is liability. If an autonomous vehicle gets into an accident, who is at fault: the operator, the owner, or the manufacturer? “If it’s speeding, who gets the ticket?” asked Bobby Peterson, owner of Fairly Reliable Bob’s. Tennessee has already passed legislation assigning the manufacturer with some liability, Marker said.

Second is cost. Autonomous vehicles typically work using sensors along the roadway, meaning markers including stop signs and lane stripes need to be maintained. Idaho is already behind on road maintenance, noted Sen. Bert Brackett, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Moreover, highway revenue – paid for by the gas tax – has been dropping as cars become more fuel-efficient. “Discussions need to be had,” he said.

Ness said it’s beyond the scope of the committee to answer the financial questions raised by allowing autonomous vehicles. He noted, though, that while Idaho could consider using general fund money for transportation — as some states, such as Utah, do — that would mean taking money away from other general fund entities such as public education and social services. This fall’s election could also make a difference, he added.

On the other hand, autonomous vehicles could save money because they require narrower lanes and less following distance, meaning roads could support more vehicles, said Ed Bala, district engineer for District 5, in southeast Idaho. The shorter following distance allows for “platooning,” or having a number of vehicles operating in a line, which is more fuel-efficient – 8 lanes, 8 feet wide, traveling at 80 mph, for example. Autonomous vehicles can double the capacity of a road, but not until 75 percent of the vehicles are automated, according to a Princeton University study he presented. That may take until almost 2060, according to statistics he cited from the RAND Corporation.

Finally, there are cultural considerations. For autonomous vehicles to interact, they need a common, nationwide agreement on factors ranging from vehicle design to appropriate driving behavior. How will that be determined? Will driving standards be based on New York drivers? asked David Lincoln, commissioner for the Golden Gate Highway District, in Canyon County. In addition, how will people express their personalities through autonomous vehicles, the way they do now with traditional cars? Driving may even become “transportation as a service” instead of people owning their own vehicles. It will be a massive cultural change for America and car dealers, Peterson said.

Plus, some people are afraid. A May 22 survey by AAA found that respondents were actually more afraid of autonomous vehicles than they were last year. However, insurance companies may offer incentives to customers to encourage them to switch, said Tom Donovan, deputy director for the Idaho Department of Insurance. He added that insurance companies could collect information from autonomous vehicles, raising questions about privacy.

The committee will meet next on August 21 to discuss cybersecurity, and then will have a final meeting on October 16 to meet its November 1 deadline.


What does autonomous driving really mean?

As a relatively new field, some of the terminology around autonomous vehicles is still being determined. Terms such as automated driving systems (ADS), autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, automated driving, and cooperative automated transportation are all being thrown around.

In particular, a connected vehicle has internet access to communicate with devices inside and outside the vehicle, such as vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure, or vehicle to “other,” such as pedestrian, bicyclist, or construction worker.

There are also several levels of automation:

  • Level 0: the human driver does all the driving
  • Level 1: the vehicle’s ADS can assist with steering, braking, and accelerating
  • Level 2: the vehicle’s ADS can control steering, braking, and accelerating under some circumstances, but the human must pay full attention at all times
  • Level 3: the vehicle’s ADS can perform all aspects of driving under some circumstances, but the human must be ready to take back control at any time
  • Level 4: the vehicle’s ADS can perform all aspects of driving under some circumstances, and the human doesn’t need to pay attention then
  • Level 5: the vehicle’s ADS does all the driving under all circumstances, and the human doesn’t have to pay attention at all

While some cars today offer some level of automated features, they are mostly around Level 2, with some approaching Level 3.


City plans to face off with ITD over Front and Myrtle streets

Front Street becomes an expressway during rush hour, resulting in an extended wait for crossing traffic. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Formal suggestions to make the Front and Myrtle commuter corridor in downtown Boise more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly will be submitted to the Idaho Transportation Department in summer, a city official said.

These suggestions are the outgrowth of a 2017 alternatives analysis for the two streets. The study was paid for by the Capital City Development Corp. and was jointly produced by CCDC, the city of Boise, the Ada County Highway District, COMPASS and the Idaho Transportation Department. The latter has jurisdiction over Front and Myrtle street, which also serve as U.S 20/26 highways.

The city and CCDC will likely present a mix of ideas discussed at a May 15 Urban Land Institute panel meeting on the Front and Myrtle Couplet Alternatives Analysis, said Daren Fluke, the city’s comprehensive planning manager.

These could include retiming traffic signals to give pedestrians more opportunities to cross the street (ACHD controls the Front and Myrtle traffic signals); adding more pedestrian crossings, especially between the Ada County Courthouse and Broadway; “right-sizing the road,” that is, lowering the number of traffic lanes; widening  the sidewalks; installing trees and street furniture; and adding weekend and evening parking on Front and Myrtle.

“It will be some mix-and-match,” Fluke said. “Probably not a full menu. This is all about a trade-off. We’re looking for a corridor that serves all the modes (walk, bike, car) well.”

ITD District 3 engineer Amy Revis was part of the panel discussion and indicated the transportation department was open to changes – as long as five lanes remain on Front and Myrtle and traffic flows unimpeded.

“Anything we do on Front and Myrtle has to consider a ripple effect on I-184,” Revis said.

Revis said the alternatives analysis did not explore all options. She’d like to include consideration for a pedestrian overpass at Eighth and Front streets; use of the 2½-foot shoulders at the edge of the roadways; and the exchange of sidewalk and landscaping in areas where the sidewalk is next to the curb.

“I think those are all ideas that need to be fully explored,” Revis said. “Those are benefits that have very minor impact on vehicle traffic. Weekend and evening traffic on Front and Myrtle – we’re open to that.”

Traffic at the intersection of Front and Ninth during rush hour demonstrates the imbalance for pedestrians, bicyclists , and cars on Ninth Street, said Matt Edmond, project manager of capital improvements at CCDC.

At Ninth, Front gets 1 minute 32 seconds green, while Ninth, in itself a commuter street gets 37 second green. At Eighth Street, pedestrians get 24 seconds to cross the street, while Front is green for 1 minute 50 seconds, Edmond timed.

“Asking pedestrians to wait two minutes is excessive,” Edmond said.

“Get me here, get me home”

There, of course, are two sides to the Front and Myrtle saga: the people walking and biking downtown, and the 30,000 or 40,000 downtown workers, many of whom commute west. It was noted, however, that even commuters ultimately have to walk downtown.

“Get me here, get me home, as quickly as you can.” That was the most common comment from Ada County employees surveyed by Larry Maneely, special assistant to the Ada County Board of Supervisors.

“We are in love with our vehicles,” Maneely said at the ULI forum. “We want control of our life.”

He noted the 250 employees (out of 700) who responded to the survey also opposed additional bike lanes, more pedestrian crossings, lengthening traffic signals for cross streets and narrowing Front and Myrtle to three lanes in some places.

Bryan Vaughn

Panelists noted that downtown Boise has changed dramatically since the Front-Myrtle couplet of one-way, five-lane highways was created in the 1980s, when the southern edge of downtown was minimally developed.  The couplet pre-dates BoDo, JUMP, the Simplot corporate headquarters, the Boise Centre, the Grove Hotel, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, WinCo, the Ada County Courthouse and nearly everything else that lines the length of Myrtle and Front streets.

“It’s a real issue we need to address,” ACHD Commissioner Paul Woods said. “There are not many cities I  see that succeed that are all, ‘Come in at 8 and go home at 5.’”

Along with the five lanes, the couplet has a couple examples of double left-turn lanes that are inherently dangerous for pedestrian, noted Brian Vaughn, development partner at Hawkins Companies, whose office is at Ninth and Broad – the street between Front and Myrtle.

“I won’t cross on the east side at Ninth and Myrtle because I was almost hit three times,” Vaughn said at the forum. “I’m concerned about accidents for my clients.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 18 and May 20.



Idaho’s data is moving off the mainframe

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is housed in the Joe R. Williams office building, shown here. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen
The state’s mainframe computer is housed in the Joe R. Williams office building, shown here. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen.

Want a slightly used mainframe? Cheap? In a few years, Idaho might have one for you.

The payroll system, used by state agencies, was installed on the mainframe in 1987 and the accounting installed in 1988, with the mainframe itself installed around 1971. Consequently, it made sense for the office to provide mainframe computing services to other state agencies too, said Tamara Shipman, deputy state controller and administrator of the computer service center. “Agencies that interfaced into the payroll and accounting system had to get their data here somehow,” she said. “All the state agencies had to have some sort of presence on the mainframe.”

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Joshua Whitworth. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

But as agencies such as the Department of Health and Welfare (see box), Department of Labor (see box) and Department of Transportation (see box) have migrated off the mainframe to other solutions, the Controller’s office is taking the same steps, with the goal to migrate off the mainframe in six years, said Joshua Whitworth, chief deputy state controller. Alternatives include an on-premise solution, a cloud-based solution, or a combination or hybrid solution, he said.

The department issued a request for information in 2017 and received six responses, Whitworth said. The next step will be to issue a Request for Proposal; not all RFI respondents may submit proposals, he noted. The project, budgeted to cost $102 million, has been approved by lawmakers.

Part of the incentive for moving off the mainframe is the “death spiral,” Whitworth said. As mainframe costs rise and the cost of alternatives drops, more groups migrate, but that doesn’t lessen costs – just spreads them among fewer groups, meaning costs rise faster and causing groups to find alternatives even more quickly.

The issue isn’t the mainframe hardware itself, which has been upgraded regularly. Today’s mainframe looks like a black refrigerator. It’s located in a computer room with a white-tiled raised floor; the Controller’s office manages the mainframe data center and tightly monitors security, including not revealing the make and model of the hardware or allowing photos of its location.

The problem is the software, which also dates to the 1980s. While it has been modernized, such as gaining a web-based front end that provides browser access, the guts of the programs remain the same. Not only do they use outdated programming techniques, which makes it hard to change the software, but fewer employees know those computer languages, as many are retiring. Some Controller’s staff, including Shipman, have been there more than 30 years, she said.

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Tamara Shipman. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

Some states modernized in the late 1990s when it was believed that older programs would stop running in 2000 because they weren’t set up to deal with years past then, Whitworth said. Many of those states are now looking to modernize again, he added.

Idaho isn’t alone. According to The 2017 State CIO Survey, published in October, from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), 28 percent of respondents said they had a strategy in place to migrate legacy applications to the cloud, and 55 percent said a cloud migration strategy was in development. That said, mainframes were still used in 225 state and local governments as of mid-2017, according to mainframe software vendor Compuware.

“Provision of mainframe computing services to state agency customers has long been a staple of the state CIO function, and it is still a service provided by a large majority of state CIO organizations,” the NASCIO report noted. “Operating under a charge-back model to agency customers, mainframe services have historically been a major revenue source for state CIOs. However, as state CIO organizations migrate towards a service broker model and the demand for mainframe cycles decline, all CIO services are being re-assessed.”

In particular, states are looking at off-premise “mainframe as a service” solutions within the next two to three years, with 10 percent of respondents saying migration was already complete, 14 percent saying it was planned, 33 percent saying they were considering it, and 12 percent saying they were unsure.

Unemployment system on the job
The Department of Labor’s migration of its unemployment system from the mainframe was so successful that it’s won awards and is in the process of being used by two other states, Vermont and North Dakota, said Mark Mayfield, director of the Internet Unemployment System (IUS) consortium.

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Mark Mayfield

The unemployment insurance part, which Idaho employers pay into, first came online in the late 1970s. The benefit side, which pays out to eligible recipients, started in the early 1980s, Mayfield said. But the federal government was concerned about the aging of the state systems and the lack of people to work on them, which made it complicated to implement changes from the federal and state government. “The mainframe was getting to the point where it was very costly, difficult, and risky to make those changes,” he said.

In 2008, the department was approached by the federal government, along with three other states – Wyoming, North Dakota, and Arizona – to form a consortium. “We were the lead state,” Mayfield said. “We were charged with a two-year project in which we would come together and write business requirements and describe what a tax-and-benefit system would look like, then figure out how could we execute those requirements and build that system.” That ran from 2009 to 2011.

At that point, the consortium wasn’t sure of its next step, Mayfield said. At the same time, the State Controller’s office was starting to talk about moving away from the mainframe. Because the consortium seemed a year or more away from starting, Idaho decided to build its own. The project started in 2012, and in September 2014, the mainframe was shut down. The software is written in the more modern computer language C# and runs on a modern database instead of a mainframe-specific one, on premises. “When you look at a vendor, the minimum is in the neighborhood of $30 to $60 million,” he said. “Ours was $10 million. We finished the project about four months and $3 million under budget.”

Mayfield attributed the project’s success to having the business staff and the technology staff work together, as well as the work the team had already done as part of the consortium. “We really felt like, if we were going to do this, we were all in it together,” he said, adding that the project won an award from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. “When we put up a Powerpoint slide saying we finished ahead of time and under budget, we got a big round of applause.”

That brought Idaho a lot of attention. “We had a lot of states approach us asking, ‘How did you do it? Can you help us?,’” Mayfield said. Idaho formed another consortium, this time with Iowa and Vermont, but six months later, Iowa dropped the project because it didn’t have the internal resources to dedicate and needed a vendor to do it for them. “Our approach was, you need to meet us halfway, not just rely on us to walk you through it,” he said. Vermont is nearing user acceptance testing, while North Dakota rejoined late last fall after giving up on its vendor after ten years, he said.

And the other original members of the consortium? “Wyoming’s taking a system from another state, and they’ve budgeted $40 million,” Mayfield said. “Arizona exited their consortium, and they’re looking. There’s the potential they could rejoin us.”

Child support system modernization

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is working with Deloitte Consulting to migrate its child support system from the mainframe.

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Installation of the Oracle software. Photo courtesy of the Department of Health and Welfare.

In 2004, the Division of Welfare was struggling with developing effective eligibility programs, said Greg Kunz, deputy administrator in the division of welfare. “We were at a crisis point, because we could not modernize the mainframe,” he said. “It was too fragile.” The division started a three-year project to upgrade the system, taking it off the mainframe in 2009. “When it was on the mainframe, we had 85 percent of our applications processed within 30 days,” he said.  “When the project was done, we were approving 70 percent in the first day.”

That put Idaho in a good position when the Affordable Care Act came along in 2011, because Idaho already had a modern eligibility system, Kunz said. Gradually, the department started migrating some of its other systems off the mainframe.

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Greg Kunz

Now, the division is working on migrating the child support system, which accounts for a third of the entire division’s operations, Kunz said. It worked with Deloitte Consulting, and innoWake, a company Deloitte bought in May, to migrate the old software to more modern technology, said Marlin Metzger, principal at Deloitte’s lead application modernization offering, in Austin, Texas.

Now that the software has been migrated, the next phase starts: Modernization, expected to last 16 to 17 months, Kunz said. “Once you get into an open architecture with an Oracle database, we can now move in directions that are being defined an hour ago, and refined in a week or a month,” he said. “It’s the major  reason we did the migration in the first place: It allows us to rapidly modernize the system, directly targeting things that help us do a better job of customer service and problem resolution.”

Developing its own system from scratch would have started at $60 million, while the way the division did it will cost $24 million, Kunz said. (In comparison, in 2015 the state of Texas halted a similar project after the initial $202 million estimate soared to more than $300 million.)  “We just happened to have a highly successful project, on budget and on schedule, that in any other way would have been a difficult lift,” he said. Whether it will be cheaper than continuing to run the software on the mainframe isn’t the issue, he said. ”We never said we’re going to save money,” he said. “What automation does is allow those business processes to be implemented more effectively.”

ITD mainframe to hit the road in 2019

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is finalizing its plan to move its services off the mainframe, said Chris Victory, chief information officer, who is responsible for all ITD technology.

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An IBM z13s mainframe, the kind the Idaho Transportation Department has in Florida. Stock photo.

The department actually migrated its operations to a mainframe in Florida three years ago, Victory said. While the mainframe was originally used for highway operations applications as well, those have migrated off the mainframe to more modern storage since then, he said. Now, the mainframe is used primarily for Department of Motor Vehicles operations such as driver’s license records, though the production of the driver’s licenses themselves is outsourced to Gemalto, which also provides driver’s licenses to several other states, he said. (Idaho is also piloting a project with Gemalto to provide electronic driver’s licenses.)

Moving to a different computer system will also give the department the opportunity to examine its operations, Victory said. “It’s not just a change in technology, but how we operate as a business,” he said. As part of the process, some ITD services will be moved off the mainframe in the next few months, around May, with the final services moved off by the middle of 2019, he said.

While the department hopes to see cost savings, it hasn’t quantified them, Victory said. In any event, savings will likely be deployed into support of the new systems, he said.

A number of other states, including Louisiana, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, have or are in the process of migrating DMV services from mainframes.