Guest Opinions

Boise, Treasure Valley should embrace rail transit for a new path forward

Rush-hour traffic exits the Interstate 184 Connector onto Myrtle Street in Boise.
Rush-hour traffic exits the Interstate 184 Connector onto Myrtle Street in Boise. Idaho Statesman file

Our beautiful state of Idaho is home to 1.6 million people, with almost half of us living in the Treasure Valley. The cities in this region sit along a 31-mile section of Interstate 84 that was designed to service interstate travel and whose interstate traffic has increased exponentially. Next, unleash half of Idaho’s commuter traffic into this same section of I-84, and you get the “hot mess” we have today. Do the Idaho Transportation Department and our elected officials really think that applying more Band-Aids to I-84 will allow it to accommodate a projected million Treasure Valley residents? Did adding more freeway lanes work for Los Angeles? (Hint: LA is ranked No. 1 in the world for traffic congestion.)

Ironically, an innovative solution parallels I-84. A rail line extends from Caldwell to Micron, with spurs to Kuna, the Boise Airport and Middleton (a short section of rail line would need to be added). Emmett could be linked in by building a rail line along the abandoned Idaho Northern Railway corridor from Middleton. Such a rail transit system could rapidly service the following stations (tied to ValleyRide buses):

1) Downtown Caldwell; 2) College of Idaho; 3) Karcher Mall; 4) Downtown Nampa; 5) Downtown Kuna; 6) Downtown Middleton; 7) Downtown Emmett (future expansion); 8) CWI Nampa\Idaho Center; 9) Ten Mile; 10) Downtown Meridian; 11) Eagle Road; 12) Boise Towne Square; 13) Saint Alphonsus (shuttle); 14) Orchard Street; 15) Boise Train Depot: BSU\ Taco Bell Arena\ Albertsons Stadium\ Morrison Center\ Boise Centre\ Century Link Arena\ St. Luke’s\ Capital District\ Proposed CWI Americana (connecting via the proposed Downtown Circulator extended to the Boise Train Depot along with a few tweaks in the route); 16) Boise Airport (shuttle from Boeing Street & Enterprise Street spur), and 17) Simplot Sports Complex\ Micron (shuttles from Federal Way and Yamhill Road).

The commuter rail system could run as a push-pull train powered by MotivePower MPXpress diesel locomotives with bi-level Bombardier coaches equipped with free Wi-Fi. Dual tracks would need to be constructed at the stations.

Idaho will spend $330 million on the 5-mile Nampa-to-Caldwell I-84 widening project. For similar money the Treasure Valley could have this rail transit system (see ValleyRide and Downtown Circulator Rail Studies). To fund this system, the Idaho Legislature could authorize GARVEE bonds for rail transit projects and taxing authority for transit districts. Moreover, a “shovel ready” design should be ready for funding from President Trump’s proposed Infrastructure Plan.

I would encourage the ITD to spend a few thousand dollars and fly a delegation of Idaho leaders and media to the politically like-minded state of Utah and meet with their Utah Transit Authority (UTA). Take a ride on UTA’s incredible FrontRunner commuter rail line and TRAX city rail lines and observe. When you come back to Idaho please give us a report on the following: 1) Is Utah’s FrontRunner commuter rail corridor or the Treasure Valley’s I-84 freeway corridor attracting more business and development? 2) Who has the better path forward, UTA’s rail transit model or ACHD’s model of chipseal and widening roads?

Rich Pagoaga Jr. is a Boise native with a background in planning and data analytics. He has traveled to 20 countries and 26 states, experiencing a variety of transportation systems. Visit IdahoRail.com for maps of his rail transit proposal.

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