Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Does COMPASS Keep Amending Communities in Motion?

A proposed amendment to Communities in Motion 2035 is currently open for public comment; comments will be accepted through noon, Wednesday, September 4, 2013.

The proposed amendment would add two projects to the “funded” list of projects in CIM 2035 – road widening on Eagle Road in Meridian and design of a road widening project on US Highway 20/26 near Caldwell. (Technically, the US 20/26 project would be listed as “partially funded,” since only the design work – not construction – is proposed for funding through this amendment and the project only encompasses part of the corridor.)

CIM 2035 has already been amended twice to add four other projects to the “funded” list of projects in the plan – rebuilding Interstate 84 interchanges at Gowen Road, Broadway Avenue, and Meridian Road, and widening Interstate 84 between Gowen Road and Broadway Avenue.

So, what’s up? Why do we keep amending CIM? After all, it will be updated next year, and we haven’t amended our other long-range transportation plans this frequently. CIM 2030 was only amended once, to add just one project. Why so many amendments now?

If a transportation project is going to be funded with federal funding it must be listed as “funded” in the long-range transportation plan, be included in the Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and potentially undergo an air quality conformity demonstration. However, long-range transportation plans must be fiscally constrained, meaning we can only plan for, or list as “funded,” projects that our financial projections show we can reasonably afford. Everything else must be placed on an “unfunded” list, meaning that the need has been identified, but there isn’t funding to pay for it. Some projects also end up on a “partially funded” list meaning that only part of a larger project or corridor is funded (if the CIM 2035 amendment is approved, US 20/26 will be on a “partially funded” list because the project proposed for funding is narrower in scope than what is listed in the plan). When financial situations change, plans need to be amended to reflect that.

That is what is happening with CIM 2035. The plan was adopted in 2010, and its financial forecast was developed in 2009. The financial situation was tenuous in 2009 and the financial forecast was bleak. The number of projects funded in the plan was significantly reduced from the previous plan.

However, two things have happened since then. First, the “Great Recession” caused construction prices to drop, in some cases significantly. This resulted in cost savings, meaning projects came in under budget, which left “extra” money that could be put toward previously unfunded projects. This was the case with the three interchange reconstruction projects. Second, as the economy has rebounded, development has picked up. The new Meridian Town Center development at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Eagle Road, under development now after delays due to the recession, is what spurred the need for the widening along Eagle Road.

Interestingly enough, this same Meridian Town Center development is what triggered the need for the same widening project on Eagle Road and the amendment to CIM 2030; however, when the economy crashed the development, and the widening project, were delayed, and the project reverted to “unfunded” in CIM 2035. The development is now underway, and the widening is again scheduled, triggering the proposed amendment. Most of the project is initially being funded by the developer, who will later be paid back through “Sales Tax Anticipation Revenue.” You can learn more about this at

Widening US 20/26 came about for a different reason altogether, though economic conditions and opportunities have set the stage. In a proposed agreement with the City of Caldwell, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), who manages US 20/26, would widen the road between Smeed Parkway and Middleton Road and the City of Caldwell would take over long-term maintenance of a different ITD road – a business loop route through Caldwell. This proposed agreement has allowed the US 20/20 project to move into the design phase and helps ITD fulfill its mission of enhancing mobility and supporting economic opportunities. The project will support economic growth in the city’s new Foreign Trade Zone. Design work for the US Highway 20/26 widening project will begin in 2014; however, construction for this project is not yet funded.

However, CIM will be updated next year. Why don’t we just wait and add the projects then? The short answer is, “we can’t.”

Projects with federal funding cannot be initiated unless they are in the TIP. Projects cannot be added to the TIP without first being listed in the long-range transportation plan as part of the “funded” transportation system. Projects must appear in the TIP when they are scheduled and budgeted – whenever an agency will begin to spend funds on that project, even if the funds are not for the actual construction, such as the case with this US 20/26 amendment. So, if an unanticipated project is scheduled to occur in the near future and belongs in the TIP, CIM must be amended first. It can’t wait for a regularly scheduled CIM update. 

Confusing? Yes. Bureaucracy? Maybe. But the process serves a purpose – it ensures that improvements are carefully considered, prioritized, and planned, and that public input is considered, prior to making decisions on projects that cost millions of dollars and affect the lives of everyone using the transportation system. Please take time to submit your comments on proposed CIM 2035 amendment by September 4.

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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.