Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blueprint Boise

The City of Boise is nearing the end of their work on rewriting their comprehensive plan, named Blueprint Boise. ACHD staff has reviewed the plan with an eye towards the subjects that have an impact on transportation or the delivery of the transportation element like roads vs transit or "complete streets".

The comments provided by ACHD will be advisory but the hope is that Boise will take them into account and perhaps tweak the plan element so that ACHD and Boise are on the same page, so to speak. ACHD's comments are not binding on Boise, but actually, the comp plan is not binding on ACHD. Yet, again, the hope is that ACHD and Boise will work together, just as the hope is that ACHD and any city in Ada County or Ada County itself can work together, and in the case of Boise, let's hope that hope actually does triumph over experience.

I really only had one comment on the comments and that was regarding connectivity. Boise's plan states "establish a connectivity index to promote a connected system of roadways to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce travel distances, and increase travel options." ACHD's comments basically stated that indices have been tried before, haven't worked that well but will consider connectivity requirements on a case-by-case basis and will take Boise's input into consideration.

My issue is that I get irked when there is a stub street in an existing area that theoretically was put there to connect with an adjoining area but that when the time comes to connect, the existing neighborhood objects to the potential of more traffic or "riff-raff", and the stub street (or perhaps it's a stub pedestrian pathway) doesn't get connected. Makes it hard to have connectivity when there is no connection.

One would have thought I blasphemed against all that's holy in the ACHD Protocols. Yikes. I was told in no uncertain terms by President Huber that what I said was just wrong and they almost always connect the stub streets. Maybe one or two have not been connected but those are the ones that are remembered but there really haven't been very many. Oops, turns out that's dead wrong. If the issue comes before the Commission, there is a 50-75% chance the stub street will NOT go through. Staff does NOT make the decisions on a case-by-case basis - they follow a policy. Only Commissioners can circumvent policy, and in the case of connectivity, it appears that's done on a regular basis.

Commissioner Carol McKee was adamantly in favor of going case by case. She said "this is the people's house (huh?)" and they should be able to come and be listened to. I absolutely agree with the latter part of her statement. Unfortunately, in my experience, both on and off the Commission, I haven't found her to be that welcoming to the public.

It's hard to be faced with angry citizens who want their neighborhood left the way it currently is and not what was planned, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and make a vote that doesn't make everyone happy. Sad to say, that rarely happens for connectivity when appealed to the Commission.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

See, We CAN Work Together

Today, the ACHD Commission hosted a number of local elected officials to present information on the potential Three Cities River Crossing and get some feedback. We had participation from Garden City, Boise, Eagle, Meridian and Ada County.

Lisa Applebee of ACHD presented an overview of the history of the project with the end result being a build v a no build decision we must make in the near future. This bridge was to provide another crossing over the Boise River between Eagle Rd and Glenwood to relieve traffic from the existing bridges. This was originally a recommendation out of the Bench-Valley Transportation Study in the early 1990's. The preferred alternative has one entrance/exit at the north end linking to State Hwy 55 and then a coat hook effect at the south entrance/exit linking to Cloverdale Rd and Mountain View/Mulberry. The cost of the bridge will range from $60 million to $83 million, but could possibly be well over $100 million when all is said and done.

It was pointed out, however, that this is really a state bridge. It connects Hwy 44 (State St) with Hwy 20/26 (Chinden Blvd). The four intersections on which traffic will be lessened are also intersections of state highways. Cloverdale Rd and Mountain View Dr and Mulberry Ave are local roads, generally residential. Does it really make sense for Ada County taxpayers to spend local dollars on a bridge that by its construction will increase traffic on residential streets? At such a huge cost?

There were a number of ideas expressed for the funding of the bridge. A bond election (unlikely with a 66/23 plus one threshold), a toll road (a private equity firm would have to be approached on this and sold on the idea) or federal funding. Regarding the latter, it is becoming apparent that with the debt load of the federal government, local areas and states are not going to see large amounts of federal funding in the coming years. It would not be prudent to begin a project of this magnitude on the basis of assuming federal funding was going to be there and then find half way through that the money spigot was turned off leaving it to Ada County to fund. (And philosophically, should Ada County ever assume that taxpayers in California or Oklahoma or Boston fund what is not a bridge of federal significance? Certainly, Ada County would feel irritated at having our tax dollars go to fund a parochial use in another state or city.)

If ACHD were to fund this bridge totally out of local funds, it would wipe out our entire capital budget for 3-5 years, depending on the total cost. In other words, no other project would be built in Ada County except the bridge for that period of time.

It was a very thoughtful discussion and one that could not take place without every one being in the same room at the same time hearing the same thing.

Interestingly, both Eagle and Boise indicated this project was never high on their transportation wish lists.

The COMPASS Board will hear the presentation on June 21 and will decide on a recommendation on July 19. The ACHD Commission will have a public hearing on the fate of the bridge on the evening of July 21. Anyone who wishes to provide input can wait until July 21 or send a letter or e-mail anytime before then.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Too Many Regulations

I am always amazed at the diligence of any bureaucracy, including ACHD, to continually come up with new regulations and laws and guidance and policies. One would think that since there is pretty much nothing new under the sun, that we would have been all regulated out by now and simply need to enforce the regulation, laws, guidance and policies currently on the books. But no.

In fact, at the meeting on May 30, 2010, our legal counsel informed us that they were working on a new policy for something, and I have to apologize, I can't even remember what it was. But it was a replacement for something that is already in place. It seems that any nuances would have been thought about before.

This reminds me of two dumb things from my Boise City Council past.

The Capitol Terrace parking garage in downtown Boise was constructed of concrete and had 4 open sides over the second story. The building which houses the Capitol Terrace condos to the east of the garage, was built a few years later. Since the new building would close off one of the four sides, the Boise Building Department in conjunction with the Fire Department decided that the concrete garage needed a sprinkler system I guess to keep the concrete building from burning down and catching the concrete condo building from catching fire as well. A deluge system at the doorways between the two buildings was not enough. I thought this new "regulation" was stupid and wasteful then and I still can't think why it was needed.

The second was the regulation of taxis in the City of Boise. There was an issue with taxis that really had some safety issues and some cab drivers that looked like ragamuffins. So the City Clerk at the time came up with some standard dress items like no tank tops, and some safety check requirements for the cabs. But she went further and called for a limit to the number of cabs allowed in Boise. I suppose she read how successful limiting medallions in NYC has been in keeping the cost of driving a cab down. Anyway, when this item came before us, I wondered why we cared how many cabs there were in Boise. At the time, and probably still now, driving a cab was/is a tough gig and no one was/is going to be a millionaire doing it. This would have been an unnecessary regulation that a bureaucracy for some reason decided would be a good idea.

Sometime further regulations are needed, but enough thought should be given so the issue does not keep having to be revisited time and again because something was left out. It might also be helpful if for every new regulation, two needed to be rescinded.