Wednesday, August 24, 2016

TIP Top Ten

Every year about this time, I write to encourage you to comment on the update to the Regional Transportation Improvement Program, or “TIP” – a five-year budget of federally funded and regionally significant transportation projects. Like any budget, it is detailed and can be intimidating.

That said, your feedback is important. I’ve developed my own “Top 10” list of why you should take the time to review and comment on the FY2017 – 2021 TIP, which is open for public comment through September 19, 2016.

10.       The population of Ada and Canyon Counties is expected to increase by over 440,000 people by the year 2040, for a total forecasted population of 1.022 million. That’s a lot more people using our transportation system.

9.         $80.3 billion worth of freight travels on I-84 each year. Transportation is key to our economic growth.

8.         Idaho received a “C-” on its American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card.

7.         The TIP budgets federal transportation funding, but the federal gas tax that supplies most of that funding has not been raised since 1993. Needless to say, that money doesn’t go nearly as far as it did 23 years ago.

6.         Time spent in traffic is time away from your family and business. The time it takes to travel from Caldwell to Boise is forecasted to double by 2040.

5.         The Federal Highway Administration estimates that every $1 spent on road, highway, and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5, in the form of reduced vehicle and road maintenance costs, delays, fuel consumption, and emissions, as well as improvements to safety as a result of improved traffic flow.

4.         30% of Idaho’s major roads are in poor condition. Driving on poor roads costs each Idaho motorist an average of $519 per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. The TIP is focused on maintenance to address these issues.

3.         Roadway conditions are a significant factor in approximately one-third of traffic fatalities. One-hundred eight-six people died on Idaho roads (statewide) in 2014.

2.         It’s easier than ever to see how projects in the TIP align with regional goals. With each project description you will see a menu that shows which performance measures are met (from Communities in Motion 2040) that specific project supports.

1.         Projects included in the FY2017 – 2021 are budgeted at over $370 million, but we are still $150 million short of meeting transportation needs, each year, in Ada and Canyon Counties.

Our quality of life is directly tied to the quality of our transportation system. That, combined with a growing population and limited transportation funding, leads to some very tough decisions. Your input is needed to ensure we are making the best investments possible.

Want to learn more?

Link to:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Who is working to make your future brighter? Nominate them for a Leadership in Motion award!

Think for a moment about what you saw out your window yesterday and what stories you have seen in the news. I’m willing to bet that, like me, much of what you saw, heard, and read had something to do with preparing for our future – road construction, new buildings, discussions of the millennial generation and what changes they will bring, emerging technologies, business expansion, maintaining our quality of life, and more.

At COMPASS, we are always looking to – and planning for – the future of Ada and Canyon Counties. You need look no further than the top of our website to see what we are all about – “working together to plan for the future.”

Our main tool for planning for the future is Communities in Motion – the regional long-range transportation plan for Ada and Canyon Counties. This plan looks 20+ years into the future to plan not only for transportation, but also for those elements that affect, or are affected by, transportation, such as housing, economic development, and health.

However, we certainly aren’t the only ones with an eye toward the future.

Each year, through the COMPASS Leadership in Motion awards, we honor those people and projects who, like us, are planning for the future and implementing Communities in Motion.

To do that, we need your help. For someone to receive an award, they first must be nominated.

Think about what you see happening around you to prepare for the future, then nominate a project, or the person behind the project, to recognize their contributions to a better future for all of us.

I encourage you to look at who was recognized last year and to review the Communities in Motion 2040 goals as you consider who, or what, to nominate.

Anyone may submit a nomination and anything or anyone (other than COMPASS staff) that is implementing the goals of Communities in Motion is eligible to be nominated. Keep in mind that a project does not need to be a “transportation” project to be submitted for a Leadership in Motion award.

Details on award categories, as well as a link to the nomination form, can all be found here.

Nominations for COMPASS Leadership in Motion awards will be accepted through 3:00 pm, Friday, September 30, 2016. Awards will be presented at the COMPASS/Valley Regional Transit holiday luncheon on Monday, December 19, 2016.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Your voice on the COMPASS Board

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are already somewhat familiar with COMPASS…the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho. But, did you know you are represented on the COMPASS Board?

Are you scratching your head? Don’t remember voting for COMPASS Board members at the ballot box?

You did vote for them, just not in the way you think.

You – every resident of Ada and Canyon Counties – is represented on the COMPASS Board by at least three elected officials – in most cases, it is more.

COMPASS is a member-based organization. COMPASS members are government agencies in Ada and Canyon Counties, such as cities, the counties themselves, and highway districts. Each member agency has one or more seats on the Board – whenever possible, these seats are occupied by the elected officials, such as mayors, councilmembers, and commissioners. The COMPASS Board of Directors is the COMPASS governing body – the Board makes the decisions that direct what COMPASS does. The COMPASS Board is COMPASS.

You are represented on the COMPASS Board by every member agency jurisdiction you live in. For example, if you live in Middleton, you are represented on the COMPASS Board by the City of Middleton (1 seat), Canyon Highway District (1 seat), and Canyon County (3 seats). On the COMPASS website, you can look to see who our member agencies and Board members are.

So, why does this matter?

First, let’s back up to what COMPASS does. In a nutshell, COMPASS is a regional planning organization. It plans for the future of the Treasure Valley. More specifically, the agency develops the long-range transportation plan for the two-county area and allocates federal transportation funding.

When your local elected officials are making decisions in their role as COMPASS Board members, they are making those decisions with you – their constituents – in mind.

However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. On one hand, they are looking at decisions in light of how it impacts the jurisdiction they represent – your city, county, or highway district. They are considering what is best for “City X” or “County Y.” On the other hand, they are also charged with looking at decisions in light of how those decisions impact the region as a whole. After all, COMPASS is a regional entity – its goal is to plan for the future of the regional as a whole…not just one jurisdiction. As is often said, “a rising tide floats all boats.” By planning regionally, we all benefit.

So, when you think or hear about COMPASS actions, keep in mind that “COMPASS” is not a nebulous faceless entity, nor is it the staff who work here. “COMPASS” is our Board of Directors. Those Board members represent you.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Lessons from the Heartland…

Last month, we were honored to host Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett to present on his city’s successes and challenges using local option sales tax.

It is truly a rags to riches story. Not long ago, Oklahoma City had one of the most depressed economies in the nation. Today, the city’s economy is one of the nation’s most robust.

Oklahoma City has invested nearly $2 billion in schools and quality-of-life infrastructure through the innovative MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) program – funded by local option sales tax. That investment generated nearly $6 billion in private sector investment.

Local option sales tax is a means for local citizens to decide if they wanted to tax themselves to pay for a specific project to address a local or regional need. If the citizens approve the tax, it is instituted and the project proceeds. If they don’t, no new tax is instituted and the project does not proceed.

So, what do Oklahoma City’s experiences have to do with us? We’re not Oklahoma City. We have different needs. We have a smaller population base. Local option sales tax isn’t even an option here.

With the exception of the last item (local option isn’t available here), these are actually reasons why local option sales tax IS such a good tool – each community can use it for its needs, based on its own population base. It’s not a “one size fits all” approach. We don’t have to be Oklahoma City for it to work.

But…as I said, local option sales tax is not an option for us at this time. We first need the Idaho legislature to grant that authority to all local governments. Right now, only small resort cities can take advantage of this powerful tool.

The COMPASS Board strongly supports general local option sales tax authority legislation. We invited Mayor Cornett to the Treasure Valley to learn about his city’s program to further that discussion. People ask me if that means we are promoting the Oklahoma City “model” of local option sales tax. The answer is “no.” Others have asked if I think we should we adopt Utah’s model. Again, my answer is “no.” We should create our own “Idaho” model.

Visits like Mayor Cornett’s allow us to learn from what others have done. This is the one advantage we have in being one of the last states to allow local option sales tax – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can see what has worked and what has not. We can learn from other region’s successes and challenges.

Then, we can look at all we’ve learned in light of Idaho’s needs, concerns, and population base, and craft a model that works for Idaho.

It is time to get past arguing over “if” Idaho should allow local option sales tax and instead focus on how an “Idaho model” could function to serve the needs of the citizens of the State of Idaho and the Treasure Valley.

Are you ready to learn more?

 Don’t let the Treasure Valley fall through the cracks.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

It’s all about the people…even when it’s not

We humans are self-centered by nature. Despite our best intentions to the contrary, we tend to care the most about those things that directly impact us.

This is reflected in our transportation planning – efforts typically focus on planning for a transportation system to move people. However, moving people isn’t the only role of our transportation system. Transporting freight – moving goods – is vital as well.

While at first glance freight may not seem to have the personal impact of making an intersection safer or shortening your commute, it is no less relevant to our daily lives. Without freight transportation, the grocery store shelves would be bare and that item you ordered online would never arrive. 

Freight is one of the four transportation components that will be addressed in Communities in Motion 2040 2.0 (CIM 2040 2.0), the next long-range transportation plan for Ada and Canyon Counties. Much has been done already to kick start this effort. I’m excited to share some of this progress with you: 
  • 2015 Agricultural Freight Study: This study provides an overview of regional and local agricultural freight movement in and around Ada and Canyon Counties. In addition to providing valuable data, the study helped COMPASS cultivate relationships with freight producers and increase our understanding of overall freight issues. Both of these will lay the groundwork for future freight planning.
  • Freight data collection: In late 2015, COMPASS collected data on traffic volume and types of vehicles – classified by number of axels – at over 70 locations in the two counties. These data will feed into the freight component of CIM 2040 2.0.
  • Freight Advisory Workgroup: A Freight Advisory Workgroup has been formed to advise and provide input on freight-related issues and needs, and to help integrate freight into our long-range transportation planning. 
  • The Masters of Public Administration Capstone Class at the Boise State University School of Public Service conducted a Treasure Valley Freight Policy Study on behalf of COMPASS to assess the barriers and opportunities concerning freight transportation within the Treasure Valley.

The progress we’ve already made toward freight planning is just one example of the work we’re doing behind the scenes to ensure the Treasure Valley is ready for the future. We’re doing similar work on all four transportation components – bicycle/pedestrian, public transportation, and roadways, in addition to freight.

In future blogs, watch for “snapshots” of each of the four components of CIM 2040 2.0. Want to learn even more? Our 2016 education series will focus on these components as well – plan now to attend! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What’s in your camera?

The holidays are over and I’m willing to bet that you have a camera (or phone) full of photos.

As you sort through them, deciding what to keep, consider what pictures you can submit to the Treasure Valley: On the Go! photo contest:
  • Did you snap a shot of the traffic jam of shoppers on Black Friday? Submit it!
  • What about a walk in the snow? Submit it!
  •  A semi hauling Christmas trees? Submit it!
  •  Valley Regional Transit’s “Stuff the Bus” event? Submit it!

Don’t have any holiday pictures to submit? That’s OK.

COMPASS will take submissions for the Treasure Valley: On the Go! photo contest through July 31. You still have plenty of time to take, and submit, that perfect transportation photo – roadways, public transportation, bicycling or walking, or hauling freight.

In August, the public will be invited to vote on their favorites; the winners will be used in a 2017 Treasure Valley: On the Go! photo calendar and in the next regional long-range transportation plan – Communities in Motion 2040 2.0.

I look forward to seeing your photos!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why are we still talking about this?

Transportation funding.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a recurring theme in my blogs, not to mention a significant portion of all COMPASS communications…emails, website, conversations, social media… You get the picture.

The question you may be asking yourself is “why?” The Idaho Legislature raised gas tax and registration fees to address the transportation funding shortfall, and Congress just passed a five-year transportation authorization and funding bill (the “FAST Act”) on December 4.

We have new transportation funding, so why don’t I just shut up already?

The answer is simple: it’s too important an issue to simply sit back and say “we’re done.”

The new funding generated by the 2015 increase in Idaho gas tax and registration fees amounts to about $9 million per year for local transportation agencies in Ada and Canyon Counties. While $9 million is a lot of money, and a much-needed boost, it still leaves the two-county area with a $150 million per year transportation funding shortfall.

While the five-year federal FAST Act provides some stability to transportation funding, it does not solve our transportation funding woes either. The bill keeps the federal fuel tax at 1993 levels and makes up for funding shortfalls with one-time injections of general funds. It does not include long-term solutions to increase transportation funding, keep up with inflation, or compensate for decreasing revenues from increasingly fuel efficient vehicles.

So, with the 2016 Idaho Legislative session set to start in a few weeks, I am continuing to beat the “we need more funding” drum.

I’ve been told not to expect any sort of funding increase from the Legislature this year. Last year’s increase was a long, hard battle that no one relishes repeating anytime soon. That said, there are things that can be done:
  • Continue to look at ways to diversify transportation funding mechanisms, beyond the traditional fuel taxes and registration fees.
    • As part of this discussion, we need to consider how diversified revenue streams could fund public transportation and other alternative transportation modes that fuel taxes cannot fund.
  • Increase funding and flexibility for local transportation agencies.
    • The “surplus eliminator” (additional funding contingent on a general fund budget surplus) provides support for state projects; let’s expand its benefits to local agencies.

 Let’s continue to have this conversation. It’s too important to put on the back burner.

Don’t Let the Treasure Valley Fall through the Cracks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A bright spot in a dark winter day

Today is the first day of winter. Technically, it’s the darkest day of the year.

However, at COMPASS, it’s just the opposite. Yesterday, alongside COMPASS Board Chair Mayor Garret Nancolas, I had the privilege of honoring our 2015 Leadership in Motion award recipients. Presenting our annual awards is one the brightest spots in the year for me.

Two common threads linked all of this year’s award winners: persistence and longevity. These were exhibited through projects that took perseverance and years of hard work, to people who have stood the test of time and have the accomplishments to show for it, to a local nonprofit receiving its second Leadership in Motion award for its ongoing service to the community.

These all serve as a reminder that great things take time, hard work, and patience. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Neither was the Treasure Valley. 

Let these recipients serve as an inspiration and a beacon of light for you. Learn more about each recipient at

Congratulations to our 2015 Leadership in Motion recipients:

Leadership in Government, Canyon County
·         City of Nampa
o   Library Square

Leadership in Government, Ada County
·         Boise State University
o   Elder Street Park and Ride

Leadership by Example, Nonprofit
·         Boise Bicycle Project

Leadership by Example, Elected Official
·         Mayor John Evans, City of Garden City

Leadership in Practice, Professional
·         Dyan Bevins, P.E., Ada County Highway District

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It takes two…

Last winter and spring, you probably heard a lot about work in the Idaho Legislature to increase transportation funding. In April, after a lot of wrangling, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill to increase the gas tax and raise registration fees to help address Idaho’s significant transportation funding shortfall.

Now, you may be hearing about transportation issues at the federal level – funding, transportation authorization bills (or the lack thereof), and more.

It seems confusing. Why are both the state and federal governments involved in funding transportation? Can’t just one or the other handle it?

Just as with many parts of our system of government, states and the federal government share the burden and jointly reap the benefits of funding our transportation system. The system recognizes that as “united” states, our transportation and infrastructure needs do not stop at state lines – our national and local economies depend on everything from freight to tourists easily moving around the country. We also recognize that the need and ability to pay for infrastructure varies greatly from place to place. For example, in rural Idaho, we have stretches of highway running hundreds of miles with very small local populations. On the other hand, along the densely populated eastern seaboard, the ratio of population to road miles falls on the other end of the spectrum.  

Everyone pays the same federal fuel taxes, whether you live in Florida or Idaho. The taxes collected by the federal government are then re-distributed back to the states. In Idaho, we benefit greatly from this model. For every $1 our residents pay in federal fuel tax, Idaho gets $1.65 back. In fact, 54% of the funding for Idaho’s transportation system is federal. On one hand, this is a tremendous benefit to the state; on the other hand, it underscores how reliant we are on federal funding as compared to our own state funding. The national average for federal funding is only 24%.

When it comes to state taxes, each state can choose how much to tax and how to levy that tax, depending on its needs, population base, and desires of its citizens. In Idaho, our state transportation funding comes mainly from fuel tax and registration fees. Meanwhile, Oregon is experimenting with a voluntary vehicle miles of travel tax (see blog below). As a state, they are able to try a new way to tax to see if it works for them.  

Both federal and state funding have their benefits and drawbacks. It would be tough for Idaho to fund its transportation system alone, and equally difficult to fund it with nothing but federal funds.  

So, where does that leave us with regards to the ongoing discussions regarding transportation funding and policy?

As a state, we can’t wait for Congress to act to solve all our transportation needs. Our legislature needs to take responsibility, as it did last spring. On the other hand, we also cannot let Congress ask states to shoulder the burden alone. Just because Idaho, and other states, recently raised fuel taxes or made similar changes, Congress can’t simply say “problem solved” and move on.

We must be vigilant on both fronts and be part of the conversation to ensure transportation funding needs are met today and in the future.   

Friday, October 30, 2015

A VMT tax in Idaho? Lessons from our neighbor to the west

Did you know that in 1919, Oregon was the first state to institute a fuel tax? Now, in 2015, they are the first state to institute a vehicle miles of travel (VMT) tax – or, as they call it in Oregon, a road usage charge.

Within 10 years of instituting a fuel tax, every state in the nation had followed Oregon’s example. Will the nation again follow Oregon’s lead and establish a VMT tax? Will Idaho?

I honestly don’t know, but I do know that we need to revisit the way we fund our transportation system and a VMT tax is one way of doing that. The concept of a VMT tax is simple: drivers would be charged a fee based on the number of miles they drive, instead of (NOT in addition to) the amount of fuel they purchase. With this type of tax, everyone pays the same amount per mile, tying the amount paid in “transportation tax” directly to the amount of use.

Maureen Bock, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), and Colleen Gants, PRR (a consultant working with ODOT), shared insight into Oregon’s new road usage charge – OReGO – as part of the COMPASS education series in September. I’d like to share a little of what they discussed – focusing on the “why” and “how” of the program.

Why? Oregon instituted its OReGO program to address declining gas tax revenues, a disparity between revenues and expenses, and social equity issues.

Declining gas tax revenues:
  • Changes to the nation’s vehicle fleet
    • The number of hybrids and electric vehicles on the road is increasing rapidly
    • Less fuel (or no fuel at all!) is consumed by hybrid and electric vehicles than traditional gas/diesel-powered vehicles
  • Stricter fuel efficiency standards
    • Traditional gas/diesel vehicles are getting more and more fuel efficient
    • As standards become even more strict, this trend will continue
    • The bottom line: less fuel used means less fuel tax collected
    Disparity between revenues and expenses:
    • Fuel taxes are typically priced per gallon
      • A price per gallon method of taxation doesn’t increase with inflation
      • For example, the federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. That 18.4 cents could buy much more in 1993 than it can today
    • Construction costs are increasing
    • The bottom line: stagnant or shrinking fuel tax revenue can’t keep up with costs
     Social equity:
    • Middle- and upper income individuals benefit from increased fuel efficiency as they purchase new vehicles, while lower-income individuals tend to drive older, less fuel efficient vehicles
    • The bottom line: lower income individuals pay more in fuel tax for the same usage than middle- and upper-income individuals
     How? How does the OReGO system work? Why was it set up as it was? 
    • The OReGO program is voluntary and limited to 5,000 participants. Currently, about 1,000 are enrolled.
    • To allow for flexibility and to address privacy concerns, participants have a choice in service providers – much as someone chooses their cell phone or cable provider. Different providers offer different types of service. For example, a participant can choose a provider that tracks miles only (no GPS to track where they drive) or they can choose a provider that collects more data and provides feedback to the driver. Regardless of the provider, all that ODOT ever sees is the total number of miles driven. The “extra” information is only shared with the participant
    • Costs to the participant vary depending on the type of vehicle they drive. OReGO charges a flat rate of 1.5 cents per mile. Someone driving a gas guzzler will likely save money with OReGO, as they use more fuel per mile, and thus pay more in fuel tax, than the flat rate per mile charge. On the other hand, an owner of a hybrid likely will pay more with OReGO, as they use less fuel – and therefore pay less in fuel tax – than the flat rate per mile charge.
    • As I said above, OReGO replaces fuel tax for participants…they are not double taxed. However, the way the program is currently set up, participants do pay fuel tax at the pump, then later the amount they paid in fuel tax is compared against the road usage charge and they are either invoiced or reimbursed the difference.
    One big drawback of a VMT tax is the cost to administer the program. VMT taxes are collected from individual vehicle owners, while fuel taxes are collected from gas stations. More “users” (individuals vs gas stations) means more work to collect the taxes, which makes it more expensive. It’s unknown how many vehicles would need to be enrolled in a VMT program for it to make money, but the number is likely in the millions. For now, with 1,000 enrollees in Oregon’s voluntary program, it is far from breaking even.

    Will a VMT tax solve our transportation funding woes? It’s hard to know, but the fact that Oregon – and others – are exploring how it works is a step in the right direction. Something needs to change. Our current method of paying for our transportation system is not keeping up with transportation costs or societal trends.

    What do you think? Is a VMT tax worth exploring, or is Oregon wasting its time? Do you think Idahoans would jump on board if given the chance? Submit a comment below to share your views.

    Want to learn more? Link to a video and slides of ODOT’s OReGO presentations at

    Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

    COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.