The Boise Valley Railroad runs a 16-mile spur line from Boise to Nampa that connects with the Union Pacific Railroad tracks crossing southern Idaho. The railroad’s Kansas-based owners have dreamed of installing a transfer station in East Boise where trucks could load and offload from trains or store products for shipping.
The Idaho Transportation Board’s decision last week to reconstruct three interchanges along Interstate 84 in Boise and Meridian, including the one at Gowen Road, makes the transfer station more likely to be built.
Replacing Gowen Road’s 43-year-old overpass will help trucks move more smoothly through interchange, said John Watts, a Boise lobbyist for Watco Cos. of Pittsburg, Kan. “We have already done a feasibility study,” he told the Idaho Statesman.
The transportation board decided Thursday to take advantage of recession-induced construction-cost savings and unspent money under the state’s seven-year-old Connecting Idaho borrowing program to speed construction of $180 million in Idaho road projects on the board’s wish list. Most of the money will be spent in the Treasure Valley.
Valley leaders praised the speedup, saying it would foster industrial development.
Reconstructing the Gowen Road and Broadway Avenue interchanges, both built in 1969, could increase the shipment of goods among planes at the airport, freight trains like Watco’s and trucks, said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
The same interchange upgrades also will improve the likelihood of new development south of I-84, said John Brunelle, assistant for economic development to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.
“The areas surrounding these two interchanges are expected to see 16,000 new jobs over the next 20 years,” Brunelle said. “For those jobs to be retained, we must invest in the infrastructure to support them.”
Connors said it is a “pleasant surprise” to see the state moving ahead on three projects that until a short while ago were barely on the horizon.
For the past several years, community leaders had focused little attention on the Broadway and Gowen interchanges. Instead, they pushed to get the third interchange done: Meridian Road. That 47-year-old interchange has become a bottleneck. The old overpass isn’t wide enough for eight lanes of traffic, so Meridian Road is the last place along I-84 from Nampa to Boise where motorists must squeeze back down to six lanes. Widening and overpass projects in the past several years have expanded the freeway’s capacity along the rest of that stretch.
Meridian Road also has safety issues as children walk across the overpass on their way to the Roaring Springs Waterpark.
An attempt to get the Legislature to spend money on the interchange and other projects under the bonding program failed in the 2011 and 2012 legislative session. But transportation officials still have access to leftover bond money that lawmakers previously authorized but that hasn’t been spent.
Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd said a better interchange could open the way to more office development and entertainment businesses around Roaring Springs and serve as a gateway to the The Peregrine Fund World Center For Birds of Prey and the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of I-84.
“It’s a good day for the region,” De Weerd said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts