Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Good Idea From Maintenance

Rich Girard, Assistant Manager of the Maintenance Department, had another good idea. At the ACHD Commission Wednesday meeting on October 28, 2009, we approved the purchase of 2 pup trailers.

What are pup trailers you ask? Well, much as some commissioners love to talk about dogs, this equipment has nothing to do with animals, but rather they are the little trailers that are pulled behind dump trucks.

Currently, ACHD crushes 50,000 tons of material each year and it costs about $9.50 a ton to haul it where it needs to go. By using a pup trailer to maximize the loads, taxpayers will save $3.50 a ton or $175,000 per year. As each pup trailer will cost $87,758 each, we can expect to have this equipment pay for itself in just one year.

Congratulations to Rich Girard for always thinking, and keep the good ideas coming.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Our Neighbors to the South

I have been traveling this last week through Nevada to get to Arizona and a couple of observations are in order.

First, while Nevada is basically barren and their north/south road is two lane and you can go for 120 miles without seeing much more than sagebrush, I swear they have the smoothest roads ever traveled upon. These roads are uncut, unpatched and the road mix that they use is quiet beyond belief - I'm going to call the Nevada Transportation Department and ask them how they do it.

Here in the Phoenix area, I am struck by their use of permissive left turn greens on every street, even those where a motorist crosses 3 lanes of traffic. In Boise, we seem to be much more squeamish about that. Arizona uses a signal arm that is fairly standardized across the region which has a slot for regular left turn green arrows and then permissive left turn green. At least in the west valley area, it appears for the most part, they only activate the permissive.

The medians are landscaped as are the sides of the roadway and it's very attractive. Of course, it's a function of money, but it's also a function they wish to pursue. Part of it comes from the requirements they make developers meet. Each city in the area develops and maintains their own roads in cooperation with the cities they abut.

All in all, it's a highly populated yet very attractive area and the traffic on the surface streets seems to flow very well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Article

In today's Wall St Journal, there is a good article entitled "Governors Try to Convince Voters That Budget Woes Are Theirs, Too".

The best paragraph in the whole article reads 'The recession will force big changes, not all of which have materialized. "We have yet to see the public sector adapt in the way the private sector has," said Mr. Klepper-Smith, also the chief economist and director of research for DataCore Partners LLC. "We can't tax our way out of this problem. Many in local government have yet to appreciate the structural nature of this recession. The cuts have been superficial." '.

How true. Here at ACHD we've made some cuts, pushed projects into the future and used some accounting gimmicks to help cash flow, but we really have never spoken about anything structural in the organization. I think most everyone just hoped things would get better before tough decisions became necessary.

The State of Idaho is seeing a fairly large downturn in it's revenues which for now is $151 million or 3.6%. ACHD shares in the Highway Distribution fund - ACHD receives about $20 million/year. The gas tax makes up a large part of this fund in addition to registration fees, title fees etc. Fuel consumption is down because miles traveled are down and unemployment is up, yet ITD anticipates only a 1% decrease in money flowing to the Highway fund.

If it is a 1% reduction, then that is only $200,000 to ACHD. However, if it's 5%, then that is $1 million.

We would have been better prepared if we had actually taken note of the economic indicators this summer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Stimulating

Remember earlier this year when the stimulus money was being "debated" and the vote was taken before anyone had read the bill and it had to be voted on right away because we had to get the stimulus money out into America to "create and/or save" jobs?

Well, today we approved the contracts with the State of Idaho for that very same stimulus money. Doesn't 8 months time just fly by?

There will be $7,424,000 in overlay projects throughout Ada County and $1,034,000 in sidewalk projects. One half of the sidewalk money will be spent in downtown Boise near St Luke's and the Elks, the other half will be spread out in various areas. The state will be responsible for bidding out the projects and paying for them and ACHD will do the inspections.

Maybe the sidewalk project could begin sooner, but obviously one doesn't pave roads in the winter sooooo the stimulating overlay projects will not happen until the spring.

Better late than never I suppose.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Boise Streetcar is Not a Done Deal

I've heard from a number of people, including those from downtown areas, who are concerned that the Boise Streetcar that's been covered extensively in the Boise Guardian and somewhat less extensively in the Statesman is a done deal.

This is simply not true. The City of Boise has proposed this project and has applied for stimulus funding from the federal government. This funding is not guaranteed as every community in America can apply for the same pot of money. This funding will also not cover the entire cost of the project either.

As I understand it, the City is proposing a Local Improvement District to fund the remainder, either whole or part. This LID would cover the area surrounding the Trolley Loop and I don't know exactly what the boundaries would be. I cannot imagine that the City Council will just create an LID without public input at a public meeting that is properly noticed.

Before anything can happen on Ada County roads regarding the placement of rails for the streetcar, ACHD will have to give permission. Prior to giving that permission, I have no doubt that we will hold a public hearing, properly noticed for our one evening meeting the fourth Wednesday of the month. I also have no doubt that our well staffed PR department will go all out to publicize the meeting if and when it should occur.

Notice I said if. I cannot fathom a situation where we would have a meeting prior to all the funding being in place, because it would just be a waste of everyone's time. So IF the stimulus funding is awarded to Boise and IF the LID or some other funding mechanism is put into place and IF all the costs of the streetcar are covered and IF there is a design and studies showing what will happen to traffic in the area IF the streetcar is built, THEN ACHD will hold a public hearing and a decision will be made.

So, to reiterate, the Streetcar is not a done deal. There is still a ton of work on it to do.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Guess I Don't Exist

Recently ACHD had a grand opening of the East Park Center Bridge and a great time was had by all. I wandered down under the bridge to see the plaque that was so extolled by our dear leader Carol McKee only to find out that I don't exist.

The plaque is lovely as you can see with the fine work done by Irene Deeley, Woman of Steel, along with 2 others, Dirk Anderson and Noel Weber. She used metal stains to bring out some color on what is normally just dull finished brass that weathers over time. She reflected the natural surroundings of the Boise River in cameo form. (I apologize that the picture is not that good.)

But, she was given text that changes reality. Apparently, I had so little to do with the bridge that it was better to put the name of my predecessor, Dave Bivens, as the current commissioner, even though his term ended over 9 months ago. This may seem egotistical on my part, and I do pray every day that the Lord grant me the grace of humility, but this is also a complete revision of history, something that Stalin used to do when he didn't like somebody.

There is an unwritten rule of thumb in politics. Anyone who is sitting on a board or a commission or a council or who is governor or senator when a project is complete and dedicated and there is a plaque involved, their name goes on the plaque. If someone who came before did a stellar job, they can also be recognized. Note that it is also and not instead. I would feel the same way if say John Franden's name had been taken off and someone else's substituted for his. It's just good form to do it that way and bad form to do it the way ACHD has done it. After all, they specially recognized the ACHD director and the ACHD lawyer as well as the Dallas Harris family and others and could just have easily put Dave Biven's name there.

It basically tells the people of district 5, who did not all vote for me but certainly none of whom voted for Bivens, that their choice is not accepted and their votes don't count.

I raised this at our meeting today (video is linked here - click on watch video of entire meeting - don't worry the good part is almost right away) as I never was privy to the details of how the decision was made. I've attended all meetings of ACHD except one in March and one in September and at neither would this have been discussed. I have gone through all the minutes and there is nothing about the decision there. No one on the Commission would tell me how or when the decision was made. You think that if they were proud of what they had done, then it wouldn't have to be done in secret.

Hanlons' Razor says "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity" (I've also heard incompetence). So far, I choose to follow this adage. We're supposed to discuss it further next week. We'll see.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We Sure Got Our Money's Worth

We expect that concrete work will last a good long time and in the case of Ustick Rd, which was widened with a stunning lack of public input, that work has lasted a long, long time indeed.

While some of the concrete didn't last 6 months (I mean everything isn't perfect right?), much of it has lasted two whole years before falling apart.

Here are some examples of the fine craftmanship Ada County taxpayers received from this $20 million (including everything) project.

Seriously, this is pathetic. The good news is that
the contractor is still on the hook for fixing all these pesky little problems at his cost. I believe that it will take more than just patches as they tend to fall out with the changes from hot to cold to hot.