In her excellent July 10 piece on growth and traffic, Statesman reporter Maria L. LaGanga set forth four undeniable facts:
1. Boise and its surrounding areas and cities are growing at a rapid rate.
2. State Street at its busiest time carries more than 36,000 vehicles daily.
3. Between Meridian and Boise, certain roads carry from 37,000 to 58,000 vehicles and the approach to I-84 carries more than 63,000 vehicles.
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4. Between Eagle Road and the approach to Downtown Boise, I-84 and the Connector carry 120,000 vehicles daily and by 2035 is projected to carry 240,000 or more vehicles daily.
We are facing a serious, long term transportation problem. We are not going to be able to simply close our eyes, curse the darkness and solve it. Hopefully, we will not make the mistake of numerous growing metropolitan areas, listen to complaints, sympathize and do little or nothing until the problem is so large we can no longer handle it. We would then spend far more time, money, resources and energy. We need a solution now to address this fast-growing problem.
WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?
▪ When I was on the board of the COMPASS regional planning organization in the 1990s, I proposed that cities, counties, highway districts and state and federal authorities stop building overpasses on the interstate that placed large concrete and steel columns directly in the middle of the median between Caldwell and Mountain Home as they are inevitably replaced due to accident, age or obsolescence. Leaving the median clear of these obstructions results in an open right-of-way for a railway, subway, monorail or other mass transit in the future. Numerous spans over highways the size of our interstate corridor are built without central columns. We could start with the design of the Cloverdale Overpass, which must be replaced due to damage from a recent accident. The I-84 corridor from Caldwell will in the future clearly have a population density to support mass transit options, whatever they may be.
▪ Obtain greater right-of-ways on State Street to create a central median for mass-transit options as, over time, the roadway is enlarged. We need to obtain legislative power allowing such a use of transportation funds. One clear lane for mass transit in the future is a better option than adding another asphalt lane to clog with more vehicles (just ask anyone from Los Angeles). We don’t want to do what California has done, do we?
▪ We need to encourage the Legislature (with respect) to wake up and give city and county governments the right to adopt, with voter approval, local-option taxes to support mass-transit. We must allow intergovernmental agreements regarding urban transportation corridors — specifically, allow funds to be used to acquire rights-of-way for future mass-transit corridors. This would allow property to be acquired over time at a reasonable cost to the taxpayers rather than waiting for a crisis which would raise costs and require use of eminent domain.
▪ Start small and expand. Begin with a line from Nampa to Meridian and end up at the Downtown Boise core. We must be sure transit stations have adequate parking. Mass transit service should have limited stops; it works best when it is made as easy as possible. Make sure the stops are near job centers.
Public buy-in and support is crucial. There are a lot of smart people in Boise, Ada County and surrounding cities and counties. I served on the Boise City Council for 17 years and got a lot of good ideas from fellow elected officials. We must also listen to the public. Adopt good ideas when we hear them, even if we didn’t think of them. If government doesn’t adopt an idea, explain why. People appreciate these things.
We know we are going to face future growth and transportation challenges. Let’s work to solve these problems now and not end up cursing in California-style traffic jams while pretending we don’t have to work hard together to figure this out.
Mike Wetherell is a community member of the Statesman Editorial Board. He served on the Boise City Council, the board of COMPASS and as a District Court judge.