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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Transportation and Economic Development

This is my seventh and final post in a series of blogs discussing Communities in Motion 2040 and the relationship between transportation and other elements addressed in the plan. You can find the previous blogs below. Today I am discussing transportation and economic development.

The concept that the transportation system and the economic vitality of an area are linked is not new. From rivers to railroads to Interstates, the proximity of a community to a high quality transportation system is key to a community’s prosperity or demise.

While we don’t anticipate a “new” type of transportation system to change the modern transportation landscape and affect the prosperity of the Treasure Valley, as happened with the advent of the transcontinental railroad and later automobiles, changes that we make to our existing transportation system have the potential to generate significant economic consequences. And, on the flip side, a changing economy can have significant consequences on our transportation system.

First, let’s talk about the effect of changes to our transportation system on our economy. COMPASS has purchased software called “TREDIS,” that allows us to calculate the long-term costs and benefits of building specific transportation projects. We recently ran this model on four road widening projects that could potentially be funded through Communities in Motion 2040: widening State Highway 44 west of the City of Middleton to State Highway 16, widening Interstate 84 from northwest of the City of Caldwell to the City of Nampa, widening State Highway 55 from the Marsing to the City of Nampa, and widening US Highway 20/26 from the City of Caldwell to the City of Meridian.*

The costs of these projects are staggering – they range from an estimated $95 million to widen State Highway 55 to an estimated $200 million to widen US Highway 20/26. However, the economic benefits are even more staggering. The model predicts that if built, these roadway improvements could generate an additional 9,500 jobs. These are new, long-term jobs; the figure does not include jobs generated by the construction itself. In addition, these projects would generate millions of dollars of cost savings to local businesses and the traveling public– mainly by reducing the time needed to get from Point A to Point B.*

Second, let’s look at the impact of economic development on our transportation system. If you’ve lived here long enough, you remember a time when Eagle Road was the quickest way to get from Eagle to Interstate-84. It would be an understatement to say there has since been significant economic development along that corridor.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of what was done “right” or “wrong” on Eagle Road; I only mention it as a prime example of how development can affect our transportation system and how things have changed in how this is addressed. For example, the Meridian Town Center, a large new commercial development, is being constructed at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Eagle Road. The new development has the potential to increase traffic volumes on Eagle Road. The Idaho Transportation Department is working closely with the developer to improve Eagle Road to accommodate the anticipated increased traffic.

As COMPASS continues to develop CIM 2040, we are constantly reminded of the extent to which impacts of decisions made concerning our transportation system reach far beyond impacts to roads and buses, but touch all facets of life in the Treasure Valley, now and into the future.


*For this discussion, I've greatly simplified the descriptions of both the projects and the results. If you’d like more information on the proposed road widening projects or the TREDIS results, contact info@compassidaho.org.

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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.