Monday, April 19, 2010

Bridge Over the River Boise

Back in the early 1990's, the expansion of Curtis Rd became a hot topic. At that time, Curtis dead ended at the top of the hill and the ACHD wanted to push it down the hill and connect with Veteran's Parkway. Well, all hell broke loose. The neighborhood didn't want it, ACHD did and the matter came before the Boise City Council, which I was on at the time.

One of the comments we had was that if Curtis was to be constructed, it appeared it was being constructed in a vacuum. We felt that ACHD and the community should do a complete study of the west bench and look at all the connections from the bench to Chinden. And thus was accomplished the Bench to Valley Study. The main tenets were push Curtis Rd, Maple Grove and Five Mile down to connect to Chinden Blvd, perhaps make the Glenwood/Cole couplet one way after determining if it was needed once construction of the other links was made, and create a new river crossing linking Highway 55 to Cloverdale/Maple Grove with a sort of coat hanger look.

The latter became what is known as the Three Cities River Crossing. When first envisioned 15 years ago, the price tag was somewhere around $20 million. Expensive, but not prohibitive. Today, the price tag ranges from $65 million to over $82 million in today's dollars. Now we're talking very expensive and certainly prohibitive as ACHD's entire capital budget is a little over $37 million. In fact, the entire ACHD budget for everything is only a little less than $79 million. While building a new river crossing would be nice, the decision must be made with an eye towards just how this project will ever be funded.

The time has now arrived to fish or cut bait on the idea of the new bridge. We have reached the point where we either abandon the effort without real budget consequences (the money spent so far has been federal money, let's say from Iowa, that need not be repaid) or push forward committing the ACHD to repay any federal money should the project not be completed in the future. Right now, if we determine that we are not going to build the bridge, the feds will say fine. If however, we say, yes let's build a bridge (like they used to say let's do a musical in the old movies) and we spend the $3 million federal earmark we have received for right of way plus whatever other federal money we receive for this project and at some point in the next decade decide we can't finish, then local taxpayers are on the hook to repay all the federal money spent.

One issue that's really never mentioned is that the traffic modeling shows this bridge would relieve traffic on Eagle Rd and on Glenwood St. Both of these roads are state highways not ACHD roads. Is it fair to have the local taxpayers of Ada County subsidize the state highway system? Yes, our population uses these state roads but they are still state roads. If the State of Idaho doesn't spend money on the roads it owns in Ada County, leaving local taxpayers to do that, then ITD will take that money and spend it elsewhere in the State. In effect, Ada County is subsidizing the state system, but what else is new.

We will be holding a public hearing in the next few months on this issue to get input from the community. We will also be asking the cities in Ada County what they think should happen and if they would be willing to contribute. We will be asking if this should be a State ITD responsibility for a new river crossing.

Our window for making a pro-active decision is closing. If we don't make the decision, then it will be made for us.


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