Monday, November 3, 2014

What do we want, what do we need, and what can we really afford?

As our society has grown more affluent, the lines between “wants” and “needs” seems to get blurred. When asked to distinguish between “wants” and “needs,” I have heard people list items such as cable or satellite TV or their daily latte in the “needs” categories. They say these are things they absolutely, positively could not live without. 


While I enjoy watching football on TV as much as anyone (maybe more) and love a good cup of coffee, I’m not convinced these are “needs.” If forced to choose between these and other “needs,” such as feeding my family, keeping a roof over our heads, and simply having the time to be a dad to my kids, coffee and football don’t make the cut.

The second question is, what can I afford? Can I afford everything I need? What about everything I want? If we look at our needs realistically, most of us can truly afford everything we need and much of what we want. Where we run into trouble is distinguishing between the two, and deciding how we will pay for those things we want, but can’t afford. Will we go into debt? Take an extra job? Or, do without?

COMPASS’s job is to look at our regional transportation needs. In Communities in Motion 2040COMPASS has identified 33 unfunded priorities—our transportation needs to accommodate the growing population between now and 2040. These needs are based on an additional 422,160 people; 186,000 households; and 221,000 jobs in the two-county area—the equivalent of adding almost two new cities the size of Boise or five cities the size of Nampa. 

Some of you are likely asking yourselves right now, “are these ‘needs’ truly ‘needs’? That is, would we survive without them?”

In literal terms, for the most part, most of us will survive without these improvements. Unfortunately, the increased number of vehicles on the road, coupled with few improvements, will present significant safety issues which can make this a life and death issue in some situations. I will discuss safety issues more in a later blog.

Beyond safety, what do those unfunded needs mean to those of us who live in the Treasure Valley? If they remain unfunded, the average number of hours, per weekday, spent stuck in traffic would increase by more than 15 times (!) from an average of 27,670 hours per weekday to 430,350. To look at it another way, it would take twice as long to drive to many destinations; for example, the average drive time from Caldwell to downtown Boise would increase from 34 minutes today to 70 by 2040.

This affects our quality of life, our wallet, and the region’s economy. The cost of goods will go up, as it takes freight longer to reach its destination (after all, time is money!); response times for emergency vehicles will increase; we will spend less time with our families and more time in the car; farmers, manufacturers, and others will have a harder time getting their goods to market; and more.

What would it cost to meet those unfunded needs? That is, what can we afford? COMPASS estimates it would cost about $359 million per year, of which 44% ($159 million per year) is currently unfunded. That is our gap. I know it sounds huge, but it is doable. Based on our current population, that equates to about $755 per year per household – only about $2 per household per day – less than a latte. Is that worth more time with your family? You decide.

Don’t let the Treasure Valley fall through the cracks.

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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.