A front-page story in the Feb. 5 Statesman shows how the Treasure Valley could become completely urbanized as population doubles, filling in everything from Parma to Lucky Peak. Must we replace farms and open space with traffic-snarled sprawl?
A Boise State study at the heart of the Statesman story gave us one solution: Build up instead of out. However, to help that happen, we need a modern transportation system; intelligent water planning; and affordable housing near where people work. Let’s be specific:
In its “Cities in Motion 2040” study 20 years ago, the region’s planning forum, COMPASS, predicted the traffic growth we see today on State Street. It therefore called for “HOV lanes” for buses and ride-share vehicles during peak hours. No such lanes exist today and are forbidden by state law.
On the south end of the valley lies a Union Pacific railroad line carrying a few trains a day. Its right-of-way could accommodate a separate commuter rail from Caldwell to Micron, and even a third bike and walking lane. Union Pacific says it has no interest in selling or accommodating, but why would local authorities even try? The Legislature has forbidden local-option taxing – exactly what built the successful commuter systems in Salt Lake City, Portland and Seattle.
A 2015 study prepared for the Idaho Water Resources Board by Christian Petrich of SPF Water Engineering predicted that by 2065 domestic, commercial, municipal and industrial water use will essentially triple, from 110,000 acre-feet now to 270-390,000 acre-feet then. Lucky Peak holds 264,000 acre-feet. Yet Petrich’s study says there will also be a 44 percent decline in irrigated farm acreage, some 650,000 acre-feet.
In other states it is routine to move portions of such water to municipal and commercial use or storage. Idaho law allows such transfers but is not doing so in an orderly fashion. Idaho leaders should explain why this resource is not being redirected to serve urban growth, or how they are planning to save open land.
If the valley’s population doubles in 40 years as predicted and does so mostly with traditional developments, agriculture will be nearly obliterated. This need not happen. At least 60 percent of future households will be composed of one or two people. Moreover, most workers want to live close to work. That’s why downtown residential construction is booming and why cities should permit more close-in, multiple-family development.
In the BSU study, a “high density” future eliminates only 31 percent of farmland, while “low density” eliminates 59-64 percent.
The greatest threat, however, is that the Treasure Valley will become price-prohibited for people of moderate to low income, exactly what’s happening in coastal cities and is beginning to happen here.
The 1992 Idaho Legislature created the Idaho Housing Trust Fund to provide homes for Idahoans in greatest need. It has never been funded. In fact, housing is never discussed as a state priority. Idaho forbids its cities from requiring affordable units within developments.
Are you picking up a pattern here? When it comes to the Treasure Valley, the state of Idaho is a bit of a nanny state, hindering the region from addressing its future. Ask yourself this: In the governor’s race, is anyone addressing the future of this region as it is likely to unfold?
The perennial subject of Idaho politics should first be about the welfare of people already here: how quickly they can travel to meet their needs, the security of their water and whether they will have a home worthy of the name. The region’s likely future must be part of Idaho’s political debate.
Jerry Brady, of Boise, is the former publisher of the Post Register in Idaho Falls and a former candidate for governor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.