Thursday, June 23, 2011

Transportation Improvement Program: Canyon County Rail Safety Projects

As I discussed in my last post, the DRAFT Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for Ada and Canyon Counties for fiscal years 2012 - 2016 is open for public comment through Monday, July 25, 2011. Please take a few moments to look at the documents and submit your comments.

This is my second in a series of blogs highlighting projects in the TIP. My focus today is on three projects to improve safety at rail crossings in Canyon County – one each on Farmway Road, Peckham Road, and Allendale Road.

In total, these three projects are forecast to cost just under $500,000, which makes them among the smaller projects in the TIP. However, the safety benefits will be significant.

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) asked local highway districts to submit requests for funding for rail crossings that needed safety improvements. Canyon Highway District and Golden Gate Highway District in Canyon County both responded with requests for improvements. Farmway Road falls under the jurisdiction of Canyon Highway District and Peckham and Allendale Roads are in the Golden Gate Highway District.

All three railroad crossings receive significant truck traffic; the heavy loads from the trucks cause more wear and tear on the road surface than regular auto traffic. In addition, these are all in rural areas, so traffic is moving faster than in more populated areas.

Currently, each of these crossings is built of asphalt. The truck traffic across the asphalt causes it to deteriorate and become rough or bumpy. The rough road where vehicles cross the railroad tracks can lead to a loss of vehicle control or even to a vehicle becoming stranded on the tracks.

The projects will all undergo a similar “fix” to make the crossing smoother, which will increase safety. Boise Valley Railroad and the local highway districts will rebuild the “planking” — the road surface two feet on each side of the rail and in between the rails — to create a smoother transition between the rail area and the roadway. The new planking will be concrete, instead of the current asphalt, which will create a smoother surface. An additional long-term benefit of the concrete is that it is more durable, which will reduce future maintenance costs for the local highway districts. In addition to the new “planking,” railroad signals and gates will be added at the Farmway Road crossing.

These projects are just a small sample of what you will find budgeted for in the TIP. Take a moment to check it out and submit your comments.

Transportation Improvement Program: Broadway Bridge

As you may be aware, the DRAFT Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for Ada and Canyon Counties for fiscal years 2012 - 2016 is open for public comment through Monday, July 25, 2011.

The TIP is a budget showing where funding for regional transportation projects will be spent over the next five years in the Treasure Valley.

The TIP can be an overwhelming and confusing document. After all, it is a government budget that spans five years and covers hundreds of projects over two counties. It can be difficult to wade through.

That said, what is contained in the TIP will affect you –the projects are designed to make our roads and bridges safer, improve traffic flow, add and improve facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists, and help preserve your transportation system.

In this blog over the next few weeks I’m going to highlight a few of the projects to help give you a sense of the variety and significance of what you will find in the TIP.

The Broadway Bridge in Boise is one of many bridge projects in the TIP. Built in 1956, the bridge, near downtown Boise and Boise State University, is now considered to be “structurally deficient” by the National Bridge Inventory Database (, which concludes the bridge is “basically intolerable requiring high priority of replacement.”

The much-needed bridge replacement will soon be reality, and this can be seen in the TIP. The project has been shown in the TIP since fiscal year 2009. Initially funding was only available to repair the bridge, but additional funding has now been allocated to completely rebuild it. Construction is scheduled in fiscal year 2015. The new bridge will include an additional traffic lane, bike lanes, and upgraded sidewalks to make crossing the bridge safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

This is one of just many projects budgeted in the TIP that may affect you and the way you get around in the valley. Take a few minutes to look at the projects in the TIP and provide your comments, and check back here as we delve into some of the other projects over the next few weeks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Transportation Time

Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of “geologic time.” While “geologic time” has a specific, technical meaning, many of us simply use it to refer to things that happen so slowly that they are imperceptible when we use normal, “human” time to measure them.

The same can be said of large transportation projects. Many decades can pass between when a project is first conceived in a long-range transportation plan and when it is finally completed. It can seem like forever and often gives the appearance that nothing is happening.

In fact, one of the most common comments my staff and I hear from members of the public is, “You ask for our input into your long-range planning process, but then we never see anything happen afterwards. What gives?”

Things do happen, but they happen slowly. Instead of “geologic time,” we have “transportation time.”

The recent completion of the new Ten-Mile Interchange is a perfect example of the slow but steady progress of “transportation time,” and proof that things really do happen.

An interchange at Ten-Mile Road was first identified as a need in 1996 in Destination 2015, the long-range transportation plan for Ada County. The interchange was also identified as the highest priority for a new interchange in the 2001 I-84 Corridor Study conducted by COMPASS and the Idaho Transportation Department. It finally appeared in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) – a five-year budget for transportation projects – in 2007; construction began in 2009.

Moving from a long-range plan into the short-range TIP is a huge milestone – it means the project has moved from a “theoretical” stage (we know we need it) to a “reality” stage (we have money and plans to build it).

There are several reasons why it takes so long to move from theory to reality.

1. Prep work must be done. Before a transportation project can be built, many things must happen that aren’t necessarily visible to the traveling public. Studies must be completed. Environmental work must be done and approved. Land must be purchased. The list goes on. These things can take many years, and many dollars, to complete.

2. Funding must be available. Road construction projects are very expensive and there simply isn’t enough money to do every project that is identified in the plan. Acquiring enough funding for a large project such as the Ten-Mile Interchange can take a great deal of time, cooperation, and perseverance (just ask Mayor de Weerd). For the Ten-Mile Interchange, funding came in the form of GARVEE bonds, which allowed it to move forward faster than many projects without this source of funding.

3. It’s supposed to work that way. Long-range transportation plans are truly that – long range. They plan 20+ years into the future, which means they identify projects that will be needed in the future. If there wasn’t a time gap between when projects are identified in the plan and when they are urgently needed, we wouldn’t be doing an adequate job of long-range planning.

The Ten-Mile Interchange actually moved quite quickly in “transportation time.” For many projects, the time span between first appearing in the long-range plan and completion can be 20 to 30 years. In this case, it was only 15.

While the time frame, even a “short” 15 years, is often not what people expect, the Ten-Mile Interchange demonstrates that projects identified in a long-range plan do move forward and do get completed. It doesn’t happen fast; it happens in “transportation time.”

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.