A proposed route is the closest thing to a recommendation to come out of a series of stakeholder meetings on revamping Downtown Boise’s public transportation system.
To be clear, the stakeholders — Downtown employers, government leaders, quasi-government leaders, etc. — aren’t recommending the route yet. But in five meetings over the past two years, something resembling a consensus has bubbled to the surface.
City leaders, especially Mayor Dave Bieter, have hoped for years to enhance Boise’s public transportation, which is lackluster even when compared to cities of similar size. The city proposed a rail-based streetcar in 2009, but the idea went nowhere and was criticized by business leaders and the public.
The proposed new route is a T-shape circuit that runs north-south between Boise State University’s main campus and Main Street. The east-west branch runs along Main and Idaho streets between 15th Street and Broadway Avenue. A tail route on University Drive extends from Capitol Boulevard to the BSU Student Union Building.
The stakeholders who are studying this system — termed the Downtown circulator — will meet at least one more time in the next couple of months, said Jim Pardy, a Boise Public Works Department staffer overseeing the process for the city. The goal is to reach agreement on a final recommendation.
First, they need to decide whether a new transit system is in Downtown’s best interests. If so, they will recommend a preferred route and whether the vehicle that travels the route should a bus or a train.
Each mode has tradeoffs. The train would cost far more upfront — $111 million, compared to $23 million for new buses — and 50 percent more to operate yearly, according to estimates put together with the help of an engineering consultant. But those same estimates predict the rail system would attract 300 more riders per day and induce much greater economic development.
When the recommendation is final, Pardy said, the city will introduce it to the public through open houses and other engagement events. After that, the plan would go to the City Council for approval.
The city is far from deciding the nuts and bolts of a new Downtown transit system, such as how to pay for it, if that’s what the stakeholders recommend.