Thursday, August 26, 2010

Following the Money

COMPASS staff, with multiple partners from across the valley, have been working on applications for four federal grants. The grant applications were all submitted on Monday (August 23). In total, these grants could bring more than $30 million to the Treasure Valley. In reality, the chance of receiving even one of these grants is slim and the chance of receiving all four is nearly nil; however, this figure does highlight the significant influence federal grant monies can have on our local economy and transportation system.

The process of completing the grant applications forces us to take a good, hard look at our priorities. Most often, federal grants specify the type of projects that are eligible. That is, we can’t apply for funds to build a road if the grant is for transit, and vice versa.

So, as a region, do we only seek funding to pay for projects we have already identified as high priorities…or do we follow the money and seek grant funding for the sake of getting (much-needed) money, even if the projects that fit the grant requirements are not our highest priorities? Is funding for a low priority project better than no funding at all?

The four grants we are pursuing now do fall into the category of “high priority projects”: they have been identified as priorities by the COMPASS Board, are necessary to lay the groundwork for possible future grant funding, and have had significant work accomplished on them already. The grant money would fund:

1. A Regional Plan for Sustainable Development. This plan would depict a vision for how the region will grow and will knit together housing, economic development, land use, water infrastructure, energy, and transportation. The plan would include the regional long-range transportation plan and is needed to secure future grant funding.

2. A State Street/Highway 44 Corridor Livability Plan. A corridor area livability plan for State Street/Highway 44 will set the stage to increase affordable housing, expand transportation choices, and delineate transit oriented development sites.

3. An Alternatives Analysis for a High Capacity Corridor. This study would analyze options for “high capacity” transit (e.g., rail, bus rapid transit) along the I-84 corridor between Caldwell and downtown Boise. An “alternatives analysis” is required to move the project forward.

4. A Rebuilt Meridian Interchange. The Idaho Transportation Department is applying for this grant, with assistance from COMPASS in developing the application. This grant would completely rebuild the Meridian Interchange which would result in smoother traffic on both I-84 and Meridian Road and safer access for bicyclists and pedestrians.

However, the bigger issue of regional priorities and how they fit into the federal grant funding picture is a discussion that needs to take place as we look at future grants. What are your thoughts?

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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.