Guest Opinions

Snowstorms show again why Boise must get control of its own roads

Take a ride on an ACHD snow plow

Daniel Wittell, a senior operator with the Ada County Highway District, drives a snow plow along a few of Boise's major roadways and steeper streets Wednesday Jan. 4, 2017. Recent snowfall has kept the plows busy.
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Daniel Wittell, a senior operator with the Ada County Highway District, drives a snow plow along a few of Boise's major roadways and steeper streets Wednesday Jan. 4, 2017. Recent snowfall has kept the plows busy.

These last three weeks of extraordinary weather have been a huge challenge. Schools have been closed and the economy has slowed. Going about daily business has been difficult and many have been left in danger without necessary services.

Like people across the country, residents of Boise call the mayor’s office to complain about their unplowed, snow-clogged streets. In fact, more than 1,000 people made nonemergency phone calls to city of Boise offices in the past week alone. Unfortunately, our only answer is to tell them to call the Ada County Highway District, because ACHD controls the streets in Boise. At a time like this, we need to be able to give our constituents a quicker and better answer.

To be clear, we are not critical of ACHD workers who have been laboring around the clock — alongside city workers — using the tools and guidance given to them to clear our roads. In fact, we wholeheartedly thank them all for their hard work.

Instead, we are critical of a system that cannot provide the services our residents deserve. Virtually every city in the country outside of Ada County controls its own roads. The residents of Boise have high satisfaction with their city government’s overall services. We think they deserve and should expect the same level of service on their streets.

ACHD contends it doesn’t have the resources to prepare for major storms like these — that they are too infrequent and unpredictable. Yet, the ACHD commissioners consistently pass up the opportunity to build up a rainy day fund (or perhaps a snowy day fund) to respond effectively when needed.

This isn’t just poor service to the public; it’s a threat to public safety. And it is unacceptable. Yes, this was a record-setting snowfall. And yes, ACHD responded after everything became impassable. But the narrow limits of their plan left them behind and without contracts in place to attack the issue fully and in a timely manner.

As a result, the city of Boise was compelled to declare a state of local emergency — a move quickly followed by other municipalities in the valley. Within hours, city crews joined the snow removal effort in the downtown area, improving accessibility to businesses, offices and residents. At the same time, additional resources from multiple city departments moved quickly to collaborate with ACHD to plow many local streets. We then turned our attention to crosswalks and sidewalks along major routes.

The question is who should and can be held accountable for situations like this. Could the city of Boise do better if it were in charge of its own streets? We believe the answer is yes — our response to this storm, with very limited resources, shows that we would be very effective.

We believe it is time to review ACHD’s governance model — a 2007 study by the Urban Land Institute recommended the county’s mayors and county commissioners should sit on its governing board. Or, perhaps, it’s time that control of city streets be returned to the cities. We know that, at the very least, it’s time to have that discussion.

David H. Bieter is mayor of the city of Boise. This opinion is supported by the following members of the Boise City Council: Elaine Clegg, Lauren McLean, Maryanne Jordan, and Ben Quintana. Editor’s Note: Council members Scot Ludwig and TJ Thomson declined to sign on to this Guest Opinion.

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