Dueling press releases highlight confusion about Downtown Boise transit center

csewell@idahostatesman.comMay 3, 2013 

The Idaho Department of Lands on Wednesday sent a letter to Valley Regional Transit Executive Director Kelli Fairless stating the state agency “will not be accepting” an application from the transit agency to build a transit center on an endowment-owned parking lot in Downtown Boise across from the Capitol.

For nearly a decade, Valley Regional Transit has been trying to build a transit center in Downtown Boise. It has the funding, but cannot secure a location. The transit center would serve as a central transportation hub Downtown that could include public buses, bicycle facilities, car sharing, vanpools, carpools, taxis and airport shuttles.

Friday morning Valley Regional Transit issued a press release: “Valley Regional Transit is moving forward on the Downtown Boise Multi-Modal Center at 8th and Jefferson streets, a project that will improve public transportation services in the Treasure Valley while generating significant new revenue for the State of Idaho’s Normal School Endowment Fund.” The press release went on to outline the next steps.

VRT spokesman Mark Carnopis told the Statesman Friday morning, “VRT will submit this project to the Idaho Department of Lands for approval for this location,” adding that construction was proposed to start in fall 2014 and be completed by the end of 2015.

Later Friday afternoon, the Dept. of Lands issued the following statement: “Earlier today, Valley Regional Transit distributed a news release citing a proposed multi-modal transit center to be constructed upon property in downtown Boise owned by the State of Idaho Normal School Endowment Trust. The Idaho Department of Lands did receive an Application for Use of State Lands from Valley Regional Transit, but that application was denied by the department on May 1, 2013. The department plans to maintain the existing use of the property, located at the intersection of 8th Street and Jefferson in downtown Boise, leasing it as a revenue-generating surface parking lot, while keeping open future options for the site that may generate revenues beyond those offered by the use proposed by Valley Regional Transit.”

Valley Regional Transit issued this response following a Statesman inquiry into the conflicting information: "VRT was unaware of the recent Land Board letter when it sent the media release regarding the multimodal center earlier today. It is troubling that the Idaho State Land Board, which is bound to seek the maximum return on its investments in order to benefit the school endowment fund, would forego increased revenue for schools because of unfounded and largely political concerns about the impacts of transit on surrounding areas. The future of Idaho’s economy depends on building an efficient transit system. With this action the State reveals its lack of commitment to transit and a lack of regard for the significant taxpayer dollars invested in this site following the Land Board’s concurrence to proceed in May 2012. It also disregards the many citizens who have participated in this process and support improving regional public transportation with facilities such as this one."

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