After more than a decade of false starts and frustration, Valley Regional Transit achieved one of the biggest landmarks in the public transportation authority’s history Monday when it began operating buses out of an underground hub on the southwest corner of Main Street and Capitol Boulevard.
The transit center, called Main Street Station, has eight bus bays, a customer service office, restrooms, bike storage and repair areas and a Boise Police Department substation.
Here’s how the station works: Instead of loading and unloading passengers on Downtown streets, as Valley Regional Transit has traditionally done, buses use the underground bays. They approach the station traveling eastbound on Main Street, then turn south — against the flow of regular traffic — on a bus-only lane on Capitol Boulevard. About a half-block south of Main, the buses make a right turn into the station’s entrance and head down a concrete ramp.
They enter the station and park in the bus bays. A few minutes later, they depart again, heading up a ramp on the station’s north end that parallels Main Street.
A special traffic light greets drivers on Main Street at Capitol. This light doesn’t have the traditional green-yellow-red progression. A white horizontal bar means “Stop.” A vertical bar — also white — means “Go.” This appears when all other traffic on Main and Capitol is stopped so that the buses can advance eastward through the intersection. A white triangle carries the same meaning as a yellow light.
The idea behind using these specialized symbols is to avoid confusing drivers in the other lanes on Main Street.
Valley Regional Transit’s attempts to get a new public transportation hub in Downtown Boise date to at least 2005. That’s when Mike Crapo, one of Idaho’s two U.S. senators, secured a $9.6-million earmark for the project.
Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, chipped in $2.4 million.
But one by one, proposals fell through, largely due to vehement opposition from powerful people, including Downtown business owners, tenants and Idaho legislators.
Finally, in late 2013, the transit authority caught a big break. Tommy Ahlquist, chief operating officer for major Downtown developer Gardner Co., had an idea that sounded crazy. He wanted to build the hub beneath the U.S. Bank building that Gardner had bought months before. Valley Regional Transit got on board, and Main Street Station was built over the past two years as part of City Center Plaza, Gardner’s development on the northeast side of the Grove Plaza that includes restaurants, meeting rooms, office space, covered parking and a ballroom for an expansion of convention venue Boise Centre.
On Monday, Main Street Station appeared to work fairly efficiently. Buses arrived and parked; passengers got off and new ones got on. The buses left and headed back to their routes.
A few features will take time for passengers and motorists to get used to. Valley Regional Transit workers were at the hub Monday helping passengers find their buses. The left lane for northbound traffic on Capitol Boulevard warns motorists to stay well back from the Main Street intersection so that buses can safely turn south.
Not all bus routes are being run out of Main Street Station. Valley Regional Transit expects to add more routes to the hub as passengers get used to using it, staffers said.