Friday, October 23, 2015

Expanded public transportation…unfunded, but not forgotten

Public transportation is sorely underfunded in Idaho. It does not receive any dedicated state funding; it must rely solely on federal funding, contributions from local governments, and fares and advertising revenues.

However, that does not mean it is forgotten. COMPASS has been working diligently to plan for a future public transportation system – what is needed, when, and steps we need to take to get there.

The next long-range transportation plan, Communities in Motion 2040 2.0 will integrate four transportation components into one complete transportation system: bicycle and pedestrian networks, freight, roadways, and public transportation. While work on some of the other components has received more fanfare (see my blog below about bicycle and pedestrian planning), COMPASS has been laying the groundwork for the public transportation component of Communities in Motion 2040 2.0.

COMPASS contracted with Kittelson and Associates to develop a technical analysis for establishing the future needs for the public transportation system in Ada and Canyon Counties. The analysis recommends criteria for developing public transportation routes, taking into account the patterns of regional population and economic growth, development activity, transportation infrastructure, relevant urban design principles, and the need to make effective use of available funding.

COMPASS, with its Public Transportation Workgroup, produced a systematic step-by-step process for developing the public transportation system for 2040, including identifying key milestones necessary to develop any future high capacity public transportation corridors (e.g., bus rapid transit or light rail). This process identifies steps such as prioritization of key corridors, preservation strategies, funding requirements, and targeted investments. Phasing strategies, corridor prioritization, and mode choices (e.g., bus vs rail) will be developed as the public transportation component of Communities in Motion 2040 2.0 is fleshed out in 2017. If a high capacity corridor is identified as a near-term priority in Communities in Motion 2040 2.0, COMPASS will use the strategic process to guide necessary planning.

In tandem with developing this process, COMPASS and the Public Transportation Workgroup have been evaluating how to make the best use of funds allocated to study options for a future high capacity corridor, such as for bus rapid transit or rail. Funding had been budgeted in FY2018 for this study, but based on the findings of the technical analysis and resulting process I described above, it was determined that FY2018 is premature. These funds will be set aside to use when the timing is right, as determined through Communities in Motion 2040 2.0.

So, the next time you hear someone say “No one cares about public transportation in the Treasure Valley,” or “Hey, hasn’t anyone ever thought of light rail?” you can assure them that COMPASS – all of our member agencies – care and that, yes, “someone” has thought of light rail. Enhancements to our public transportation system – from an expanded bus system to projects as large as bus rapid transit or light rail – don’t happen overnight and they don’t happen without a way to pay for them. They take dedicated funding and a lot of careful, deliberate planning.

I’m confident that someday we will have funding for a more robust public transportation system. When that day comes, we will be ready.

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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.