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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.”

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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.