Boise & Garden City

In a full-court public-education blitz, St. Luke’s says it must close Jefferson for hospital expansion

A two-way bicycle track would go all the way around the St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center campus instead of just its east side.

A 10-foot-wide path for bikers and pedestrians would cut through the heart of the campus on the section of Bannock Street that closed in the 1990s.

St. Luke’s officials say these paths, combined with a variety of other transportation improvements around the hospital, will more than make up for closing Jefferson Street between 1st Street and Avenue B.

Neighbors are glad the hospital is offering new and improved connections for cyclists and pedestrians, but they disagree about the loss of Jefferson Street.

“The East End residents have been up in arms,” said Bob Bennett, president of the East End Neighborhood Association. “There is a great majority of them that bike into Downtown, go to the Co-op, just recreate, and they all use Jefferson.”

Bennett said residents of the East End, generally, and the entire neighborhood association board are in favor of the St. Luke’s expansion. But not at the price of losing the connection to Downtown.

Hospital officials say they searched for ways to avoid the Jefferson Street closure, but nothing worked out. Alternatives would be more expensive, take longer to build and make the hospital less effective, said Jeff Hull, senior director of architecture and construction.

The key to the expansion is providing a variety of related services on the same floor so that patients can be moved from, say, the emergency room to the X-ray center without having to go up or down a floor or to another building.

A BUILDING FOR THE NEXT 30 YEARS

St. Luke’s started planning its latest expansion in the early 2000s, Hull said. Within seven years of starting, he said, the hospital expects to wrap up its expansion, including several new buildings on its Downtown campus. It would include a new parking garage on 2nd Street, a children’s pavilion on the east side of Avenue B connected to the main campus by a sky bridge and an office building south of Main Street. Avenue B, the northern continuation of Broadway Avenue, skirts the east side of the main St. Luke’s campus.

Talk about the expansion has centered on a nine-story building St. Luke’s plans to build on top and north of what is now Jefferson Street. The first five stories on the south side of this new building would connect to the north side of the hospital’s existing main building. The top four floors would be set back from the building’s first tier like the upper portion of a wedding cake. They would have narrower connections to the surrounding buildings.

Removing those connections would compromise the level of service St. Luke’s wants to provide, said Theresa McLeod, the hospital’s community relations director. A small park area would be installed on top of Jefferson Street west of the nine-story building.

The hospital expects the expansion to cost about $400 million. It’s designed to meet capacity needs for the next 30 years, so some of the buildings would remain unused for years.

Over the past two weeks, St. Luke’s has blitzed Boise with newspaper, radio, television and mailed advertisements encouraging residents to support the hospital’s expansion.

“If the Boise City Council votes against our development plan, major services will be migrated over time to Meridian, which will affect your local healthcare and the Boise economy,” a St. Luke’s mailer read.

Those services would include the hospital’s main cancer center, major heart facilities and the Children’s Hospital, according to the mailer.

MITIGATION

Over the past 18 months, the hospital has developed a plan to update transportation infrastructure around the St. Luke’s campus with the help of neighbors, the city of Boise and Ada County Highway District, which controls public roads throughout the county.

McLeod said many of the proposal’s details started with suggestions from people who live near the St. Luke’s campus.

In an effort to make travel near the campus safer and more efficient, the hospital is offering to pay to rework three intersections: at Avenue B and Fort Street, at 3rd and Fort streets, and at 1st and Fort. St. Luke’s would also pay for a bike lane and 10-foot sidewalk on the east side of Avenue B.

On Feb. 9, Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denying the expansion plan. On March 6, hospital employees, neighbors and representatives of the highway district and city of Boise met to talk about ways to improve connectivity to and from Downtown if Jefferson Street is closed, Boise Planning Director Hal Simmons said.

Out of that meeting came the proposals to extend a two-way bike track around the campus’ entire circumference and a 10-foot pathway through the area where Bannock Street once ran, Simmons said. The city’s planning staff is now recommending approval of the St. Luke’s plan, though with major conditions.

THE KNOCK ON BANNOCK

Bennett said some East End residents worry about riding their bikes through the Bannock Street area because that’s where the main entrance to the hospital is located and it’s heavily used by doctors, patients and visitors.

Hull and McLeod said St. Luke’s wants to make the Bannock Street area more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists on a leisurely ride. But, for the same reasons Bennett brought up, they don’t expect it to become a corridor for fast-riding bicycle commuters. The two-way track around campus is better for commuters, they said.

Boise’s planning staff “would have preferred to see a more complete transportation function restored to Bannock Street than has been proposed,” according to the staff report on the St. Luke’s proposal. “The scope of the proposed hospital expansion seems to provide opportunity to rethink more dramatically how the Bannock Street area is used and to reprogram conflicting uses into other areas of the larger facility.”

The staff also wants St. Luke’s to throw its weight — politically and financially — behind putting buffered bike lanes on Idaho and Main streets between Avenue B and Downtown. The idea is to expand a network of bike and pedestrian connections in and around the campus. Hull said the hospital is open to proposals for additional bike lanes and connectivity, but stopped short of saying the hospital supports that one.

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