Guest Opinions

Jefferson Street closure not in Boise’s public interest

Proposed St. Luke's cycle track

Peter Lagerwey of the Toole Design Group in Seattle was brought to Boise by St. Luke's officials June 14 to explain how a mile-long cycle track around the hospital campus would work if implemented. St. Luke's master plan expansion needs approval f
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Peter Lagerwey of the Toole Design Group in Seattle was brought to Boise by St. Luke's officials June 14 to explain how a mile-long cycle track around the hospital campus would work if implemented. St. Luke's master plan expansion needs approval f

Members of Keep Boise Connected Inc. were invited to meet with the Idaho StatesmanEditorial Board recently, just as we were last June before Boise City Council’s approval of St. Luke’s master plan. In both cases we presented straightforward, compelling testimony from independent experts in medicine, health care, economics and transportation planning.

We showed data and planning documents clearly stating the public interest served by Jefferson Street, which the Ada County Highway District’s 2013 Downtown Boise redevelopment plan refers to as a corridor that “... provides key east-west connectivity east of Broadway-Avenue B and west of 16th Street (which Bannock does not).”

We pointed to the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission’s 6-to-1 denial of the master plan “for the reason that it does not comply with substantial elements of the comprehensive plan.” We shared testimony from David Allison, one of the country’s most respected architectural experts on design of urban hospitals who observed, “...by fundamentally creating a superblock in a choke point in your city, they [St. Luke’s] are in fact, harming the city.”

On behalf of thousands of taxpayers throughout Ada County, we questioned diverting ACHD resources from very real transportation problems elsewhere. Dismissing this as an East End issue ignores the facts.

We’ve approached this with integrity and faithfully presented information from the public record. We’ve all been active civic partners with local government and business for decades. We aren’t anti-growth, anti-government or anti-business; we are simply pro neighborhood and community.

None of us questions St. Luke’s right to build on land it currently owns — in the East End, on Americana or Fairview near the Connector — even in Meridian. As Allison, Director of Graduate Studies in Architecture + Health at Clemson University noted, if further street closures weren’t an option, we might finally see a 21st Century Plan B that meets regional health care needs and makes better use of existing infrastructure and access corridors, and that “does no harm” to the community.

An urban hospital should respect the constraints of building within a city, not bring suburban sprawl where it doesn’t belong.

When government considers projects of this magnitude we expect them to seek out unbiased experts to help inform decisions. That didn’t happen here; in fact, we’ve heard from hospital and government employees fearful of expressing their concerns to leadership or in public. That’s not a recipe for informed decision-making or good government.

ACHD commissioners are likely under tremendous political pressure to grant a street closure despite objective evidence to the contrary. This is meant to be a legal, not an emotional decision; it shouldn’t matter what’s convenient or cheaper for St. Luke’s.

Under state law commissioners must find that closing a functional public right-of-way — currently in active use by the public — is in the public interest. But granting street closure in this case sets a precedent that could open Pandora’s box. The ripple effects of this decision will extend far into the future and throughout the Treasure Valley.

Ultimately, this is in the commissioners’ hands; we hope evidence — not emotional public relations or politics — guides them.

Erik Kingston is a Certified Professional Community and Economic Developer with over 20 years’ experience working in more than three dozen communities throughout Idaho on housing, community and economic development; community design and identity; land use and civic engagement.

ACHD public hearings on St. Luke’s expansion

The meetings are scheduled over two days: 6 p.m. Wednesday in the ACHD auditorium, 3775 Adams St., in Garden City, and again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the same location. Find details at the ACHD website: achdidaho.org.

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