Monday, April 3, 2017

What can $2 per day buy you? Priority #3 – US 20/26 (Chinden Boulevard)

This is the third in my series of blogs highlighting our unfunded transportation priorities. Click or scroll down to read my first two – on Interstate 84 and State Highway 44.

Today, I’m focusing on COMPASS’ #3 unfunded priority -- US 20/26; also known as Chinden Boulevard in Ada County. If you’ve looked at my two previous “unfunded priority” blogs, you’ve probably started to notice a theme – our top three unfunded priorities happen to be the three primary east/west travel routes in Ada and Canyon Counties.

Is this a coincidence? No.

It’s probably not a surprise either, given the geography of our valley – most of our population and jobs, and therefore our regional transportation needs, follow an east/west alignment. So far, we have looked at I-84, the southernmost east/west route in the two-county region, and State Highway 44, the northernmost east/west route in the region. Today, we’re looking at US 20/26 – the route in the middle.

While US 20/26 is in need of improvement now – to accommodate today’s users – it is only going to get worse as we grow.

By 2040, traffic along US 20/26 is expected to double (or more) between Middleton Road in Caldwell and Linder Road in Meridian, and increase by a whopping 80% from Linder Road to Eagle Road. Today’s 25-minute commute from Middleton Road to Glenwood Street in Boise will take you an hour by 2040 if improvements are not made.

The overall increase in population of the two counties will account for some of this increase in demand. There will be more people needing to get from Point A in the west to Point B in the east and vice versa. However, compounding this general increase in population is the significant forecasted growth along the corridor itself. 

From Middleton Road to Locust Grove (Meridian), the population along the US 20/26 corridor is expected to more than triple, from just under 9,000 in 2013 to over 29,000 in 2040, while employment in the same area is expected to increase six-fold (!) from 1,300 jobs in 2013 to 8,200 in 2040.  

So, what’s being done about it?

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) has been studying US 20/26 from I-84 in Caldwell to Eagle Road in Boise, and has developed an Environmental Assessment – a study that must be completed before any construction can begin. The Environmental Assessment includes recommended roadway improvements and right-of-way needs for the corridor between now and 2040. The final public comment opportunity on this assessment was just completed. Information on the Environmental Assessment can be found online at

However, while the Environmental Assessment is a necessary first step, the lack of funding for the majority of the corridor is still the elephant in the room.

Some minor improvements are funded. These projects – restoring the pavement between Borchers Lane in Caldwell and Locus Grove Road, adding right turn lanes at three intersections in Canyon County and a new signal at Franklin Road, and replacing a bridge over the Phyllis Canal near Meridian – are slated to occur between 2017 and 2021. However, only one project to increase the capacity of the roadway is funded.

That project – widening by adding one lane in each direction between Locust Grove Road and Eagle Road (State Highway 55) is budgeted for construction in 2021, pending approval of the Environmental Assessment. The remainder of the planned widening and related improvements remains unfunded. ITD anticipates constructing these projects through a phased approach between now and 2040, but that can only happen if funding becomes available.
With continued growth, but without needed transportation improvements, we will spend more and more time in our cars, and less and less time with family and friends. Let’s continue to work for a solution to meet our transportation funding needs. 

Don’t let the Treasure Valley Fall through the Cracks.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Parks for Everyone!

As I discussed in my November 17 post, I am writing a series of quarterly blogs discussing trends and key data from the 2016 Change in Motion report. This is the second in that series. You can find the first, on housing affordability, here.

Whether you are a parent taking your toddler to the jungle gym, a weekend warrior playing
on a city-league softball team, or someone who simply enjoys a nice walk by the river, we all benefit from the Treasure Valley’s vast number of parks.

Between the two counties, we have nearly 5,900 acres of public parks, in addition to private parks (e.g., those owned by neighborhood associations) and vast open spaces, such as the foothills and Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. As of 2015, those 5,900 acres of public parks equated to 9.1 acres for every 1,000 people in the Treasure Valley.

In Communities in Motion 2040, COMPASS set a target of more than 10 acres of public parks per 1,000 people by 2040; a target that is consistent with national standards. While the current ratio of 9.1 per 1,000 is close to our target of 10, it is actually a decrease from our 2013 ratio of 9.8 per 1,000.

This begs two questions: (1) Why does a transportation plan have a target for parks in the first place? (2) Why did the ratio decrease? Are we losing parks?

Communities in Motion 2040 is different from COMPASS’ previous long-range transportation plans. COMPASS recognizes that you cannot plan for the transportation future of a region in a vacuum, so the plan not only addresses transportation, but also includes elements that affect, and are affected by, transportation. One of these elements is open space, which includes public parks.

To that end, Communities in Motion 2040 includes a goal to, “[p]romote development and transportation projects that protect and provide all of the region’s population with access to open space, natural resources, and trails.”

While parks and open space have many environmental and other benefits related to their simple existence (think of the pleasure of seeing the foothills out your window, even if you don’t ever set foot in them), most areas designated as “parks” are designed to be “used” by people, from playing soccer or Frisbee to picnicking or simply relaxing in the outdoors. From this standpoint, they are of limited benefit if the users can’t get to them. A robust transportation system is needed to ensure that people, of all walks of life, can access our public parks – by car, by bike, on foot, or by bus.

On the flip side, public parks and other open spaces and pathways, such as the Boise River Greenbelt, contribute to our transportation system by providing opportunities for active transportation. For example, during 2016, COMPASS’ automated bicycle counters recorded an average of over 550 cyclists using the Boise River Greenbelt during the morning commute (6 am – 9 am) each weekday.

So, if parks are so important, why we are moving away from our target? First, let me assure you that this doesn’t mean we are losing parks. What it does mean is that our parks aren’t keeping up with our population. It’s a simple math equation. Our population increased rapidly, but the acreage of parks didn’t increase proportionally, so the acres per 1,000 people decreased. To reach our goal, our acreage of parks needs to increase at a faster rate than our population.

We’ll continue to monitor this trend, and hopefully can report in the future that we have reversed direction and are moving closer to our 10 acres per 1,000 people goal.

In the meantime, we do have almost 5,900 wonderful acres of parks. After a long, harsh winter let’s all get outside and enjoy them!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What can $2 per day buy you? A look at priority #2 – State Highway 44/State Street

This is the second in my series of blogs highlighting our unfunded priorities. Based on the combination of expected growth and unfunded needs, COMPASS has ranked State Highway 44/State Street as the #2 unfunded priority corridor in Ada and Canyon Counties – second only to I-84 in Canyon County (read my I-84 blog here).

Do you listen to the traffic reports on the radio in the morning or evening? If so, you hear the same phrase I do every day: “Traffic is backed up in the usual places along State Street…” 

The State Highway 44/State Street corridor connects Canyon County and western Ada County with the City of Boise. In fact, it is the only east/west commuter route north of the Boise River that connects Ada and Canyon Counties. In addition to the average of 7,000 (western end) to 35,000 (eastern end) vehicles per day that travel this roadway, it also boasts the region’s most-used bus route.

Needless to say, State Highway 44/State Street is busy and congested, and it is only going to get worse.   
  • Growth in the Cities of Middleton, Star, and Eagle is expected to bring dramatic increases in traffic and congestion, which will impact all modes of travel in the corridor. The overall population along the corridor is forecasted to double from approximately 30,000 today to over 60,000 by 2040. 
  • Traffic is expected to increase four-fold on the western end of the corridor near Middleton and to double on the eastern end of the corridor in downtown Boise by 2040.
  • The average driving time between Middleton Road and downtown Boise is projected to more than double by 2040 – from 35 minutes in 2013 to 75 minutes in 2040. 
Based on the combination of expected growth and unfunded needs, COMPASS has ranked State Highway 44/State Street as the #2 unfunded priority corridor in Ada and Canyon Counties – second only to I-84 in Canyon County.

Multiple improvements needed to address this growth have been identified. Some of the smaller improvements are funded; other, larger, improvements are not.

What’s Funded and When:
  • State Street, State Highway 16 to downtown Boise – Develop a land use plan for transit oriented development
    • When? 2017
  • State Street and Collister Drive Intersection - Intersection Improvements
    • When? 2018 
  • State Highway 44, State Highway 16 to Linder Road (2.3 miles) –  Widen from 2 to 4 lanes
    • When? Design will begin in 2017; construction anticipated sometime between 2019 and 2025 
  • State Street, Glenwood Street to 27th Street (4 miles) –  Widen from 5 to 7 lanes
    • When? Construction anticipated sometime between 2019 and 2025
    • This four-mile span is divided into four individual projects, each with its own budget and schedule

What’s Not Funded:
  • State Highway 44, Exit 25 to State Highway 16 - Widen to 4 lanes and construct new roadway from Canyon Lane to Duff Lane in the City of Middleton (12 miles) 
  • State Street, Glenwood Street to downtown Boise – Public transportation improvements
    • Includes capital improvements, increased service frequency, pedestrian and bike facility improvements, additional public transportation amenities, and other related improvements

Without additional transportation funding, improvements that would serve the transportation needs of current and future Treasure Valley residents will remain unfunded. COMPASS will continue to advocate for increased transportation funding to meet these needs, so that we Don’t Let the Treasure Valley Fall through the Cracks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What can $2 per day buy you? Priority #1 – I-84

$2 per household per day.

I have been repeating that same mantra for years. If every household contributed an extra $2 per day, we could meet our unfunded transportation needs. But what does that really mean to residents of Ada and Canyon Counties? What would you get out of the deal?

Over the next few months, I am going to highlight our highest unfunded priorities – projects that we desperately need, if only we had the funding. I’m starting with our highest priority, I-84 in Canyon County.

It probably comes as no surprise that Interstate 84 in Canyon County between western Caldwell and Franklin Boulevard in Nampa is the region’s top priority. Both safety and congestion are serious issues and will only get worse as time goes by. Between 2008 and 2015 alone, there were 950 total crashes in that segment – that’s an average of 119 per year!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. We’ve heard your concerns loud and clear:

“The area is in DESPERATE need of repair and widening. Congestion is a MESS and the road is totally TORN UP with deep cracks EVERYWHERE making it a hazard for us the daily travelers!”
“I drove this section of the Interstate just this past week, and was appalled at the condition of the roadway, which is under constant heavy use not only by local residents, but also by huge numbers of out-of-state travelers and truckers.”
“The Nampa-to-Caldwell freeway… is not just a ‘cosmetic’ concern--it is a real safety issue, which must not be ignored…”
“As a Nampa resident, I normally avoid this part of the freeway because of the roughness of the pavement and because of the hassles of merging onto it.”
“The 3-lane to 2-lane neck-down west bound in Nampa is dangerous (crazy, impatient drivers) and congested. While that bottleneck is truly an annoyance, I am more concerned with the road condition between Nampa/Caldwell.”
What may surprise you is the price tag: over $330 million, based on ITD's most current cost estimate. To make matters worse, the longer we wait, the more it will cost.

What would this mean to you? You would have a less congested and safer commute. The current bottleneck where the interstate transitions from six lanes to four lanes would be eliminated. Additional side benefits would likely include relieving congestion on the Caldwell-Nampa Boulevard and making public transportation services more efficient.

But, $330 million in a lot of money. To put this into perspective, in 2015 the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 312, which raised the Idaho fuel tax and vehicle registration fees. This increase added an additional $95 million per year statewide. This annual statewide total is only 29% of what would be needed to widen I-84.

I appreciate what was accomplished in the 2015 Legislature, but it’s not enough to pay for these types of large projects. I often hear from people, “you raised my taxes, now fix it” or “if they really wanted to, ITD would find a way to pay for it.”
It’s not that simple. Believe it or not, ITD doesn’t have an extra $330 million just sitting around. That said, they are constantly working on finding ways to fund at least part of that section of I-84. 

With COMPASS, ITD has applied for several federal competitive grants to complete sections of the work. While those grants so far have been unsuccessful, we keep trying. At the same time, we also continue to ask the Idaho Legislature to augment its 2015 increase with additional, sustainable funding so that this, and other much needed projects, do not continue to get kicked down the road.

Don’t Let the Treasure Valley Fall Through the Cracks

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Key to Broadway Bridge's Success

Last month when we presented our annual Leadership in Motion awards, it occurred to me that we should share these types of success stories more than just once a year. So, I’m going to use my blog to highlight notable projects or programs, large and small, that showcase the amazing work that happens every day in the Treasure Valley.

Most of you know the story of the Broadway Bridge – the old 1956 bridge had outlived its useful life. It was deemed “structurally deficient” and was no longer able to accommodate the 24,000+ vehicles and countless bicyclists and pedestrians that crossed it every day.

There was little, if any, dispute of the need for rebuilding the bridge. However, decisions regarding how to tear down and rebuild a new bridge that would accommodate all users, and do so with minimal disruption, were not as straightforward. These decisions could make or break the project. Ultimately they were the hallmark of its success.

The Idaho Transportation Department’s extensive, ongoing, and honest conversations with local stakeholders – the public, Boise State University, the City of Boise, adjacent businesses, Ada County Highway District (ACHD), and more – were instrumental in shaping the final design of the bridge. From start to finish, ITD went above and beyond to include and educate anyone and everyone who would be affected by the bridge replacement.

ITD closed the bridge on January 4, 2016, with a goal to open the new bridge before the first Boise State home football game in September. Could a project of this magnitude, with so many moving parts, really be completed in nine months?

Yes, it could. Again, the key was open communication and cooperation. Without assistance and partnerships with ACHD, the City of Boise, Boise State University, and neighboring businesses, the project could not have been built with such precision and on such a tight timetable.

So, how did ITD foster an open and ongoing dialogue with its stakeholders to make this project such a success? With an extensive and far-reaching public involvement strategy that included: 

  • Working closely with local businesses to minimize impact. In fact, business owners praised ITD for its efforts to keep them “in the loop,” and its timely response to questions and problems.
  • Widely distributing information on the closure, detours, and status updates on construction. You would have been hard pressed to find someone who did not know the Broadway Bridge was under construction.
  • Conducting community workshops that ultimately helped ITD make the decision to construct the bridge through a complete road closure, as opposed to a phased construction with partial closures, and include wide bike lanes and sidewalks and keep the greenbelt under the bridge open to the river.
  • Coordinating with partners to keep traffic flowing on alternate routes, re-route the greenbelt, and keep business access open.

The new bridge was built to serve all users, is attractively designed, includes greenbelt access on all four corners…and was built in just nine months. None of this could have happened without the commitment to an open dialogue, clear communication, and partnership toward a common goal by not only ITD, but its partners, adjacent businesses, and the public.

It is truly a success story.

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.