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Monday, November 17, 2014

Communities in Motion 2040: Now the Real Work Begins…

I often hear complaints that all COMPASS does is plan…as soon as we finish one plan we start on the “next” plan, and leave the plan we just finished sitting on the shelf.

I must admit, the part about starting on the “next” plan almost immediately after one plan is adopted is true. We must update the long-range transportation plan (Communities in Motion) every four years, and it takes nearly four years to complete the process, so we do start again right away. In fact, our current plan, Communities in Motion 2040, was adopted by our Board in July, and in October our Board approved the scope of work to update that plan.

BUT…that’s not the whole story. One thing that is different this time around is that we have kept the horizon year (the ending year of the plan) at 2040, instead of moving it ahead as we have done in the past. Communities in Motion 2040 provides excellent “bones” for a long-range transportation plan, and the update will add more “meat” to the bones. Keeping the horizon year at 2040 allows COMPASS to refine the plan and to focus our efforts on implementation.

Below I share just a sample of the work COMPASS has already begun to implement Communities in Motion 2040; each of these addresses specific goals outlined in the plan.

ü  Grant Implementation Program. In early 2014 COMPASS kicked off a program to provide small grants to COMPASS member agencies to assist with local projects that implement the goals of Communities in Motion. COMPASS awarded grants in 2014 to the Cities of Middleton, Kuna, and Wilder, and will open applications for 2015 grants in January. Learn more

ü  Farm Freight Study. Agriculture is one of the primary economic drivers in the area, particularly in Canyon County, yet very little is known about the transportation routes and needs associated with farm freight. In July, COMPASS began work on a farm freight study to identify important routes used for hauling farm produce from fields to processors, and from processors to market. Identification of those key routes is a first step in ensuring they are preserved and well-maintained so they can continue to serve the agricultural community.

ü  Look! Save a Life! Bicyclists and pedestrians are a vital and growing segment of our population and our transportation users. To promote safety, COMPASS spread the word about the importance of sharing the road by sponsoring the Boise Police Department’s Look! Save a Life! television campaign in September and October 2014, and is co-sponsoring a workshop on urban bikeway design hosted by Boise State University. We will continue to work with our partners to increase safety and reduce bicycle and pedestrian collisions.

ü  Regional Pathway Plan. Ada and Canyon Counties have a myriad of pathways, most notably the Boise River Greenbelt, and even more pathways are in various stages of planning. While just about any pathway can provide amenities for exercise and enjoyment, for a pathway to truly be used for transportation, it must go somewhere or connect to something. COMPASS is developing a regional pathway plan to map the locations of current and future pathways across the two-county area, identify gaps in the pathway system, and establish priorities for pathway funding to create a more comprehensive, useable pathway system across the valley.

ü  The biggest issue raised in Communities in Motion 2040 was the fact that there is not enough funding to complete transportation corridors and projects needed to be prepared for the future. To help raise the awareness of this issue, and the dire need to do something about it, COMPASS has initiated the Don’t let the Treasure Valley fall through the cracks! campaign. The campaign includes a new web page, weekly Facebook posts, education series speakers, radio messages, blogs, and more that will continue throughout 2015.


ü  Last, but not least, COMPASS has been working on a “performance-based planning” approach – basically, how do we take what we learn through implementing this plan and use it to inform, and improve, the “next” plan? This is something that all metropolitan planning organizations in the nation must do, and COMPASS is on the leading edge. Through Communities in Motion 2040, we have developed 56 performance measures and targets. We are tracking progress toward targets to document progress (or not) and better comprehend what changes need to be made to improve our success. Anyone can view our targets and data at any time via an online performance dashboard or the biennial Change in Motion report. 

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. 

Really?

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.

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.