Jackie Bargabos joked that her husband started shopping for life insurance policies for her after finding out that State Street traffic will soon come within a few feet of her office chair.
Bargabos and her husband, Jason, own Aloha Auto Repair on the south side of State Street just west of Veterans Memorial Parkway in Boise. Jackie Bargabos said a project to redo the intersection of State Street, Veterans Memorial Parkway and 36th Street will lop 10 feet off the property where Aloha sits. A sidewalk will be all that separates the wall of her office from cars on State, she said.
“It’s really scary,” said Jason Bargabos, who also works as a technician in the shop. “It’s just unsafe with that much traffic coming through here.”
Jackie Bargabos said she is working with the Ada County Highway District, the agency overseeing the project, to put some kind of barrier between the building and the street. She’s also worried the project will reduce the amount of walk-in business she gets.
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Aloha’s neighbors, too, are bracing for a rough ride as construction begins on the first of several projects to overhaul intersections along State Street and, years from now, widen one of the busiest streets in the Treasure Valley.
Many think the projects will improve the area in the long run. But not everyone is convinced the highway district has the right idea. One member of its governing board said the district is enabling the Valley’s car-dependent culture at the expense of better public transportation and non-car travel.
Construction at State and 36th is scheduled to start in February and wrap up this fall. Five buildings have been demolished already: State Street Auto Body; Bristle and Crown, a hair salon; Ideal Lending; a duplex home; and a single-family home.
The $8 million project will revamp the way traffic flows through the intersection. The most radical change is that cars won’t turn left from State Street to go north on 36th or south on Veterans. Instead, they’ll continue through the intersection and travel several hundred feet before arriving at what’s known as a “thru turn.”
There, they’ll merge into the far left lane, make a U-turn and double back to the intersection, where they’ll turn right to head north on 36th or south on Veterans. Signalized pedestrian crossings will regulate traffic near the U-turn area. Using the same timing plan the highway district follows now, engineers will time the pedestrian signals with the signals at State-Veterans-36th to make the process work as smoothly as possible, highway district spokeswoman Nicole Du Bois said in an email.
Bike lane segments will be added near the intersection, according to the project’s design map.
The appearance of the corridor at State and Veterans-36th will undergo a major change, too. Two more buildings, housing the Smoky Davis smoked-meats store and Zen Bento, a Japanese restaurant, will join the five already gone to make way for the wider intersection. Eighteen signs will be removed or relocated, including the signs at Viking Drive In and The Dutch Goose.
The highway district is acquiring about 150,000 square feet of land for the project, not counting 128,000 square feet of temporary construction easements, according to figures obtained by the Idaho Statesman. The district spent $3 million on property acquisitions, Du Bois said.
ACHD anticipates adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes someday, but state law prohibits them, and there’s no sign the Legislature is likely to change that.
John Turner, owner of Turner Sportsfair, a bar and shop about 800 feet northwest of the intersection, agreed that the project will hurt business in the short term.
“It always does,” he said. “We just ride it out.”
The Dutch Goose is trying to make the best of the looming dent in its business. Phil Grafft, a supervisor at the restaurant and bar, said the owners have been planning a remodeling project for a year or so, and road construction in front of it offers a chance to do the work while business is already down.
“We’re going try to time it,” Grafft said. “Whenever the construction in front of The Dutch Goose is the gnarliest, we’re going to do some things in here, too.”
He said the restaurant could close for a few days as workers bring the building up to code, renovate its bar and carry out other improvements.
JUST THE START
Dozens more businesses will go through the same trials if the highway district’s long-term plan for State Street becomes a reality.
Construction at State-Veterans-36th is the first part of an effort to remake State Street from 23rd Street northwest to Glenwood Street over the next decade or more, said Ryan Head, the highway district’s planning supervisor.
The district will take on major intersections first, Head said, including the ones at Glenwood, Collister Drive and Pierce Park Lane. Of those, the Collister intersection is the next priority after 36th and Veterans, and Glenwood is the last.
After redoing the intersections, the highway district will expand the 4-mile stretch to seven lanes from five now. The district expects all of this work to cost roughly $42 million, Du Bois said.
Highway District Commissioner Jim Hansen said he has opposed the State Street projects, as designed, since they were introduced. The district isn’t doing enough to encourage public transportation or non-car options, he said.
“The end result will be some nice big intersections, but we’re going to be nowhere close to achieving our goal of a transit corridor,” Hansen said. “
Putting better bike lanes on both State Street and intersecting streets’ approaches would make it easier for people to get to bus stations, he said. He said the district also should work with Boise and other cities to encourage “transit-oriented” development — high-density housing and commercial buildings — along State Street.
ACHD’s problem is that its leaders don’t want to put in the time to make sure its projects cooperate with the cities’ goals, Hansen said.
“So what we do is rebuild intersections to increase capacity for cars,” he said. “And as a result, we are spending tens of millions of dollars, and we will possibly get a road configuration that will have to be completely redone to have an effective high-capacity transit corridor.”
The highway district isn’t the problem, said Matt Stoll, executive director of Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, or COMPASS. A bigger obstacle to enhanced public transportation is the Idaho Legislature’s refusal to allow special local sales taxes to pay for rail or bus systems, as other Western cities like Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix have done, Stoll said.
ACHD is “putting an honest effort and trying to make (State Street) a mobility corridor within the confines of what the funding realities are regarding public transportation,” he said.
Long term, State Street will need better public transportation, Stoll said.
Already, it has the most popular bus route in the Treasure Valley. By 2040, COMPASS predicts, the Valley will have 1 million inhabitants — about 320,000 more than live here now.
“There’s only so many lanes you can put on State Street before you’ve got to look at other options,” Stoll said. “Other than the economy going in the tank, which I don’t believe anybody wants, I don’t know of any successful method of keeping the population from growing in an area like Boise.”
One possibility that’s come up is a right lane reserved for buses and traffic turning into businesses along State Street. Hansen said that would be a good step toward an effective transit corridor.
But is it legal? The only Idaho law on dedicated lanes for high-occupancy vehicles applies only to counties with populations of fewer than 25,000, or to resort cities with populations of 10,000 or fewer. Head, ACHD’s planning supervisor, said there’s been no legal opinion on whether bus-only lanes qualify as HOV lanes.
“We wouldn’t implement them absent some modification to state code,” he said.
Meanwhile, business people like Jackie Bargabos are hoping to get through this year without suffering too much. Once the intersection in front of her shop is done, Bargabos said, traffic should flow more smoothly and could even help people get to her shop.
“You’ve got to look on the bright side,” Bargabos said. “Just four days ago, I had a car totaled right in front of my shop. So there are safety concerns. There are accidents here all the time. And so I do believe that this, long term, is going to be great. It’s just getting there.”