Valley Regional Transit site derailed again

The state and VRT collide over a proposed site for a Downtown Boise 'multimodal center.'

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comMay 4, 2013 

— For the sixth time in almost as many years, a possible location for a transit center got nixed Friday.

And this time it wasn't pretty.

Just hours after Valley Regional Transit announced it was taking the "next steps" on a site at 8th and Jefferson streets, the State Land Board sent out its own statement saying it had told VRT earlier this week it couldn't put the center on the state-managed land.

What's going on?

Even though VRT got a $9 million federal earmark from Sen. Mike Crapo in 2005 - local governments have to put up a $3 million match - it hasn't been able to find an acceptable site to build the transit center, which would serve as a central transportation hub in Downtown Boise that could include public buses, bicycle facilities, car sharing, vanpools, carpools, taxis and airport shuttles.

How'd we get here?

• 2008: Valley Regional Transit announces it has selected a site for a $12 million multistory bus station and transit center at the northeast corner of 11th and Idaho streets.

• 2009: New site announced: Along the sides of 10th Street between Main and Bannock streets. This would be an on-street bus and transit facility instead of an off-street facility.

After public outcry over the 10th Street site, city and VRT officials identify another possible site: Part of a parking lot adjacent to U.S. Bank on Main Street. When that news came out, the property owner quickly nixed it. So VRT says the 11th and Idaho site is back on.

• 2010: New site announced: Parking lot at the southeast corner of 12th and Idaho streets, adjacent to the Royal Plaza Condominiums. Public outcry nixes that site.

• 2011: 11th and Idaho site is back on, although the property owner has yet to publicly support the project.

• June 2012: New site announced: The parking lot at the northwest corner of 8th and Jefferson streets next to the Capitol. The Normal School Endowment owns the property; the Idaho Department of Lands manages it under a state constitutional mandate to maximize long-term financial returns for the endowment.

What happened Friday?

In the morning, Valley Regional Transit announced it was "moving forward" with the 8th and Jefferson site, including looking for a development partner. VRT provided a rendering of the building and said construction was tentatively slated to start next year.

Unknown to VRT Executive Director Kelli Fairless, the Department of Lands had sent a letter to her dated May 1 saying the state agency "will not be accepting the application" from VRT.

Fairless later said she hadn't recognized the sender's name and hadn't read the email.

She found the email Friday afternoon after a staff member notified her of the flap. She said neither she nor her staff had notified the state they were sending out the press release about plans for the transit center on state-managed land.

What did the state do Friday?

The Department of Lands hand-delivered the denial letter to VRT offices and issued its own statement Friday afternoon.

"That application was denied by the department on May 1, 2013. The department plans to maintain the existing use of the property ... while keeping open future options for the site that may generate revenues beyond those offered by the use proposed by Valley Regional Transit."

What's next?

Fairless said she will meet with VRT executive board on Monday to decide its next move. She said she would still like to pursue the 8th and Jefferson site.

"It is a good site. It is the best site we have found so far," she said. "The Land Board's responsibility to the school endowment is to get a higher return on the investment."

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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