The Treasure Valley has grown! So why don’t most of us have the choice to ride a bus, vanpool or rapid transit?
When I drive my car, I benefit when my neighbors choose other modes. And visa versa. Ten people on a bus or in a commuter van means 10 fewer cars waiting in front of me at a traffic light. And, more parking. We all benefit from choice and the freedom it provides.
Now, as 2018 budgets are being set, is the best time to ask why our road system has not been leveraged with more transportation choices and whether that should change.
In 1994, Idaho’s legislature found that communities that give people robust transportation choices manage growth better. So, they gave Idaho voters the ability to create a regional transit service. Rather than create a new tax to fund transit, the legislature cited the taxing authority that cities, counties and highway districts already have.
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This meant that highway districts within transit service areas were permitted to become “transportation” districts, not just road districts.
In 1998, voters in Canyon and Ada Counties voted overwhelmingly to create Valley Regional Transit. (VRT). Voters weren’t stupid. They knew local funds had to come from existing authority, at least until the system was up and running.
After VRT was created, some cities did fund it. This leveraged federal matching funds. ACHD — the local government that collects all local transportation tax dollars in Ada County — chose not to fund VRT.
After 19 years, most people still lack access to transit. A huge amount of federal transit funds that could have been invested in the Treasure Valley went to other states.
Voters in 1998 rightly assumed that by now we would be maximizing our road infrastructure in many ways — with people choosing to move about in cars, buses and rapid transit.
Since 1998, the market has rewarded sectors that provided real choices, as we’ve seen with the rise of Lyft, Uber and Airbnb. Underlying these are public investments in infrastructure that facilitate choice.
As ACHD sets its 2018 budget will it finally start leveraging road spending with investment that allows people to make real choices on to deal with increased travel time that comes with growth and congestion?
It is very expensive when government assumes people are not capable of making their own choices. Currently, ACHD spends money on a lot of road infrastructure based on the theory that all homes generate 10 car trips per day. It assumes that none of those trips will be replaced with another mode. This creates ever-increasing cycles of spending on one mode only.
Well, the word “highway” is still in ACHD’s name but that word is NOT in ACHD’s vision or mission statements. Neither is the word “road.”
ACHD’s vision is to be a leader in “transportation innovation” and to “invest in communities.” Innovation in other sectors of the economy assumes dynamic choices. “Investment” is meaningless unless there is value returned. People create value by the choices they make with their time and money.
Transportation choice is also in ACHD’s mission to “drive quality transportation for all Ada County — Anytime, Anywhere!” An important way to fulfill this is with transit investment contemplated by the voters in 1998.
The words in ACHD’s vision and mission are consistent with being in a transit service area. Now, let’s align the budget. After 20 years, let’s finally start leveraging our $3 billion-plus road investment to ensure people have real choices in transportation.
Jim Hansen is one of five ACHD Commissioners. This commentary reflects his views and is not shared by all of his fellow commissioners.
Hearing Aug. 23
ACHD will set its 2018 budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23, in the ACHD Auditorium, 3775 Adams St., in Garden City. If you can’t attend, you can submit comments ahead of time at the District website.