Few Boiseans realize that Boise once had an incredible rail transit system . The 13-mile City Line connected the north, south, east and west parts of Boise to Downtown, while the Interurban Line made a 70-mile loop from Downtown to Eagle, Star, Middleton, Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian and back to Downtown on what is today State Street and the Boise Valley Railroad (BVRR). Why did it disappear? In a nutshell: Cars were subsidized; streetcars were not.
Today, Boise leaders would like to re-establish rail transit, but their efforts have languished. Why? Because Boise has the wrong transportation model. First, Boise needs to move from a highway mindset to a transportation mindset. Second, Boise needs to adopt the model of the West Ada and Boise school districts. Third, Boise leaders need to put forth a bold transportation vision to be voted upon by the Boise voters (e.g., Foothills Open Space Initiative).
Here is that transportation vision: Boise should amicably split from the Ada County Highway District (Boiexit) and create the Boise Transportation District (BTD). The BTD would be free to fund all modes of transportation and could issue bonds. The mayor would appoint a BTD Transportation Chief, the City Council would approve its budget\projects, and the BTD would be chartered with an innovative transportation mission:
1) Reconfigure Boise roads by making extensive use of roundabouts. ACHD’s shoddy chipseal would be replaced with asphalt pavement recycling using Reclaimed Asphalt Pavement for a smooth and cost-effective surface treatment.
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2) Facilitate walking travel by developing innovative pedestrian bridges, tunnels, walkways and crossings.
3) Build new bike paths along Settlers Canal, Ridenbaugh Canal, Farmers Union Canal, Farmers Lateral and the BVRR with tunnels under busy streets and connect them to the Greenbelt like Scottsdale, Ariz. This would create a large bike path network to safely bicycle around Boise.
4) Re-establish city rail transit using modern streetcars tied in with buses. In the study Bring Back the Streetcar!, here is what conservative authors Paul Weyrich and William Lind concluded: “Streetcars bring and channel development, attract tourists, fit a downtown well and people who wouldn’t ride a bus will ride a streetcar.” The proposed Downtown-to-Boise State University T-shape Circulator is a great first step; but to maximize ridership, the route needs to directly service Taco Bell Arena, Albertsons Stadium and the Morrison Center. This route proposal also allows for future expansion to the Train Depot (commuter rail stop) and the Boise Airport.
5) Jointly re-establish commuter rail transit like Salt Lake City’s FrontRunner — a rail line from Caldwell to Micron is already in place.
ACHD had a 2015 budget of $97 million. Boise’s population is 51 percent of Ada County, which would roughly mean a $49.5 million (51 percent of $97 million) annual budget for the BTD. This budget should be sufficient to fund bond payments on a Downtown streetcar and BTD’s mission.
Boise isn’t “Smallville” anymore. Our city now has a population of 214,000 (bigger than Salt Lake City) and a metropolitan area of 676,000.
Isn’t it time for a new path forward?
Rich Pagoaga Jr. is a Boise native, employed as a Business Intelligence Data Analyst, and has traveled to 20 countries and 26 states, experiencing a variety of transportation systems.