The Treasure Valley remains an exceptional place to live, work, and recreate. The results of a recently released survey of the area, which I directed on behalf of Boise State University’s School of Public Service, show that residents of Ada, Boise, Canyon, Gem and Owyhee Counties are optimistic about the economic future, feel safe in their neighborhoods, and think highly of their neighbors. Nearly 90 percent say those living here are welcoming to newcomers with different religious, economic, and ethnic backgrounds.
There is little in the survey to contradict this rosy outlook, with one exception: increased anxiety about the pace of growth here? Nearly 55 percent of Treasure Valley residents say the area is growing too fast, a figure that is up more than 10 percent over last year.
At one level this observation should not surprise very many of us. After all, the area has been growing at noteworthy pace. Earlier this year, Forbes identified Boise as the 11th fastest-growing city in the United States, and a variety of projections have the area poised for tremendous growth over the next few decades. Other communities throughout the valley face their own, often different and sometimes more acute, growth-related challenges, as well. Local leaders are aware of this, of course, and bodies such as COMPASS have been planning for desired growth strategies for years.
Even so, buying a home here is an increasingly expensive and challenging proposition, and the decline of area farmland has not gone unnoticed either. Simply getting around from place to place becomes a growing problem in an increasingly congested community – our survey shows Treasure Valley residents face the greatest difficulty getting to government services and community resources.
Perhaps that’s why the other most notable change from last year’s survey is a 7 percent increase in the number of people who say the Treasure Valley could use more mass transportation options. Today nearly three-fourths of Treasure Valley residents feel this way – most strongly in Ada and Canyon Counties. And when it comes to how residents want their local governments to spend their tax dollars, public transportation is the clear top choice. That level of demand for greater public transit choice makes this closer to a consensus position than merely a growing preference.
With such a sizeable majority in agreement, it is natural to see the conversation continue to shift from whether there should be more mass transit options to what the top transportation priority ought to be in the Treasure Valley. According to the results of our study, commuter rail between Canyon County and the City of Boise is the most popular option, followed by increasing the number of bus routes and the frequency those routes run. Maintaining and expanding our existing infrastructure is also popular, and most respondents said doing so would lower their costs and make getting around easier than would additional public transportation options.
The fact that public transportation performed so well in our survey – even with over 60 percent of respondents acknowledging road-related spending would more directly lower their transportation costs and make it easier for them to get to work, school, shopping centers, and other places they go – underscores the broad awareness among our community that the area’s public transportation needs are acute.
None of this, of course, is new to the mayors and council members, development professionals and business leaders who have been steering the ship so well for so long. There are no shortage of plans and proposals out there to find, any one of which would likely help make living in the Treasure Valley even better as our economy continues to boom. The trick is finding the proposal that satisfies multiple constituencies while accomplishing the goal of making this place the best place in the United States to thrive.
Justin S. Vaughn is an associate professor of political science at Boise State University and director of the Center for Idaho History & Politics.