Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No Potted Plant Here

As the new Commissioner on the dais, I am always amazed at the way the formal meetings are run. As a former Boise City Councilmember for 16 years, we had a way of doing things that is not replicated by ACHD.

For instance, I am used to having discussion of the motion after the motion is made. This is an opportunity to say why you're voting the way you are particularly if you're not going along with the motion. It's a way of showing the sausage being made so to speak.

ACHD doesn't do that. The motion is made, it's seconded and then boom you vote. Tonight I upset that apple cart. We had a number of items on the agenda which I thought were important enough to discuss. I thought one in particular should have been deferred since it was a plan for the SW of Boise and integrated land use and transportation. There were enough issues that a delay of one month wouldn't have made a difference but it would have allowed total support by Boise.

So I asked that I be given time to discuss the item and my no vote. During my explanation another Commissioner tried to interupt and call for the question. I couldn't believe that happened but it did. After the vote I asked that that never happen again, that everyone be allowed the courtesy of finishing their remarks.

I think this is where the ACHD commission gets the reputation of being the captive of the staff. I don't know why the commission doesn't ever really discuss anything at the dais. We do discuss things in the pre commission meeting but those remarks aren't taped. If all we are seen to do in the public on the record meeting is seemingly rubber stamp what staff has presented, that does a great disservice to the public who should be allowed a window into why a commissioner votes the way they do.

This commissioner basically tried to tell me to sit there and shut up. You'd think they would know by now that's never going to happen.

PS. After a while, others discussed their vote as well. I found that interesting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So You've Got a Philosophy?

In "A Train to Crazytown", I wrote about how the ACHD commission does not have an overarching philosophy that would tie all of our decisions together.

So I thought I should give an accounting of what my philosophy is and of course, what I think the commission's policy should be. First though, let's set the stage.

We know that money is tight and it is clear from all that is going on, money will continue to be tight into the foreseeable future. It is highly likely that this area will never see the growth rate that we had in the past. There will be growth sometime in the future, but it will not be hell bent for leather like it was before. In the interim, money from property tax will be down. Money from the gas tax will be down. Money from sales tax will be down. Money from impact fees will be down.

At the same time we know we have declining revenues, we have put together a 20 year capital improvements plan that adds up to $1.1billion in projects. Insanity. We may be following the State rules on this, but it's still insanity.

People want traffic to move and I think ACHD does too for the most part. The question is, how do we make that happen? Do we continue to put together exceedingly expensive plans for 5 lane roads and new bridges the construction of which is pushed further and further into the future or do we find a more inexpensive and efficient way to make traffic flow?

Obviously, my choice is the latter. We know we can fix intersections, we know we can time lights. We can put in roundabouts that work well in other areas instead of massive 7 lane intersections that may not have a right hand turn lane and with 2 left turn lanes do not allow for permissive left turn signals.

There are technologies, and ACHD uses them in some places, that allow for freer movement. Have you been on Eagle Rd lately? It flows much better than a few years ago because of the new Intelligent Transportation System (ITS).

Rather than undergoing studies and developing plans for massive road projects that will really never be built, we need to spend our money on practicalities. ITS, roundabouts, a permissive left turn green system that can be used most everywhere, right hand turn lanes - these are all systems we know are effective in moving traffic and there probably are others.

We really do not need to pretend that we can fund $1.1 billion in projects. We do need to move traffic. If a study or an effort does not result in moving traffic efficiently, then we really should not be wasting our time. And if we do need large road projects as a result of development, then developers should pay for those through exactions because impact fees are not up to the task.

Regardless of what the future holds, the ACHD commission really does need to start talking about it to come up with a coherent policy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Train to Crazytown

Sometimes I think that the ACHD Commission is like Mussolini's Italy. The trains run on time, but the destination is unknown and who cares because the trains run on time.

We'll have these briefings on whatever and we have an hour to hear them - not really any more than that no matter what the issue is. We stick to that schedule like it's the most important thing in the world regardless if there are questions or policy issues that need to be addressed.

We look at things discretely without ever looking at the overarching policy implications. Every item has a box, every box has a slot and it doesn't matter if box A should logically be with box M, it needs to go by box B just because.

Oftentimes we go off on wild tangents that have nothing to do with the topic at hand, which just means that we have less time to discuss the important stuff because when that train is supposed to stop it stops, no matter how far from the destination we are. You can see the trapped panicked looks in the staff person's eyes as they know these cats can't be herded and their time is slipping away. I guess they figure that being with the loons on the commission once a week is doable but personally I can't believe people actually work at ACHD.

We might say one thing and then 15 minutes later contradict ourselves. We might spend 1/2 hour discussing a budget item amounting to a whopping $1000.00 while basically taking a pass on $6.1 million. We nibble at things around the edges but won't talk about anything big.

There does not seem to be any philosophy at work on the ACHD Commission where everything fits together. It's just this topic, then that topic, then another topic and we're done.

The train leaves and it arrives pretty much on time only what we don't know is that we purchased a ticket to crazytown and its location is 3775 Adams St, Garden City Idaho.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Bad Precedent

Today, the ACHD Commission set a bad precedent on a 4-1 vote and did so without even discussing its ramifications, in fact, I'm sure the future ramifications of this did not even enter into anyone's mind.

The issue involved a developer who was appealing a staff level decision to move power poles back from the right of way in their development. The time frame for appeal is 10 days. This developer wanted us to waive the time frame. Stunningly, the original staff decision was almost THREE years ago and in the interim they have had numerous meetings with staff.

The reasons they gave for wanting the waiver was, they were new developers, they didn't know about the appeal time frame, they didn't know they could appeal and (I suspect most importantly) the cost of moving the power poles. However, a statement of appeal rights is included with every permission, not only at ACHD but by any government jurisdiction. The developer may be inexperienced, but they also failed to read the information given to them.

But the majority of the Commission "wanted to give a second chance" and to appear magnanimous. Being magnanimous can be a good thing and something that has quite frankly been missing from a lot of their treatment of citizens in the past.

In and of itself, this may not be a big deal. However, what if another developer gets down the road in a development process and decides that they don't want to abide by all the conditions for whatever reason including too expensive. Are we then going to deny their wanting to waive the time frame for appeal and if so, on what possible grounds? That they are not a first time developer? That the cost of the condition is too expensive? And if we say no and this developer wants to push it and takes ACHD to court, then we've set up a situation to pay large legal fees.

I suspect that in the end the developer's appeal will not be sustained. But that doesn't mean we made a big mistake today and one that won't come back to haunt ACHD. And yes, the one vote was me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Orchard Interchange

There was a letter published today in the Idaho Daily Statesman that complained that ACHD was rebuilding the Orchard interchange and doing away with "unencumbered right hand turn lanes". I read it as doing away with right hand turn lanes period, which is not that farfetched since a lot of new intersections on Fairview don't have right hand turn lanes. In checking on this however, I found out a number of things.

First, this is an ITD project under the GARVEE scheme so ACHD doesn't have anything to do with the construction or the design. You can blame ACHD for a lot, but not this construction project.

Second, there will still be right hand turn lanes, you'll just have to stop if there's a red light and then you can go right on red. This was the big issue for me. A right hand turn lane should NEVER be done away with, and in this case it wasn't. And at new intersections, a right hand turn lane should ALWAYS be installed, which in this case it is.

Third, the stacking lane for the right turn will be longer so that more cars can be accomodated and hopefully not stuck behind cars that want to go straight.

This may not be exactly what the letter writer wants, but it is not a stupid design.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bridge to Nowhere

Actually, this should probably be entitled the Nowhere Bridge. I'm talking about the Three Cities River Crossing - the bridge that was envisioned to cross the Boise River where Five Mile Rd would extend to, if Five Mile were to extend across the river.

This bridge idea came out of the Bench to Valley Study in the mid 1990's. At the time, the cost was supposed to be $15-20 million, as I recall.

Here we are 15 years later and the bridge is still on the books, but the cost is now anticipated to be $85-92 million in today's dollars. It will be well over $100 million when the time comes to actually build it in 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 years hence.

To gain perspective, the entire ACHD budget for 2009-2010 is around $80 million.

We're going to be discussing this bridge this Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 10:30am (yes, I know, an inconvenient time but we're mitigating that with having the meeting in an inconvenient room and not taping it). If you want to weigh in on whether or not this project should be pursued, you should call ACHD and leave a message for the commission at 387-6110 or e-mail us at Or you could come to the meeting.

The issue is really very simple. Should we as a community continue to believe that we can afford a bridge that exceeds the entire transportation budget of the county in any given year? Or should we just forget about it and concentrate on projects that will actually happen and move traffic?