Posted: May 17, 2010, 11:39 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: West Boise
Boise officials begin to look at $45 million streetcar ‘starter route’
by Simon Shifrin
Published: May 14,2010
Time posted: 12:49 pm
Tags: Boise streetcar, City of Boise, Dave Bieter, Transportation
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, city councilmen and members of the city’s urban renewal agency board are beginning to take a look at a $45 million, north-south “starter” streetcar route that would run across the Boise River as they rethink the idea of a downtown circulator system.
The new route was floated as an alternative to the $60 million system that city officials had been pushing over the past 18 months during a board retreat of the city’s urban renewal agency, the Capital City Development Corp., on May 13.
The board also heard an initial report that detailed the findings of the mayor’s 35-member Streetcar Task Force, which convened in November 2008 to conduct a feasibility study about a potential streetcar system downtown.
The report urged city officials to hold off on streetcar plans until they develop an economic development strategy, secure federal funding and line up a dedicated source of money for ongoing operations.
Bieter, who attended the meeting, said the task force’s report offered a chance to take “a breather” and begin a discussion about alternatives to the $60 million plan he had been pushing - a 2.3 mile loop running 15 blocks from east to west.
The $60 million plan hit a setback in February when the city learned that it would not receive $40 million as part of the $1.5 billion Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery stimulus program, better known as TIGER.
Bieter said the possibility of that federal money had forced a hurried public conversation about a streetcar system along a specific route. He said the public dialogue can broaden now, though he said he has no regrets about suffering any political blows for pursuing the federal grant and beginning the in-depth studies needed to build a streetcar system.
“I would bear any burden and take any spear to improve the (transportation) system,” he said. “We were in the running. We were just out of the money. We were in the next tier of projects.”
He said he remains convinced that a streetcar system is “a fairly near-term possibility” - two to four years away - though he said conversations about alternative routes are only just starting. He said it will begin with small brainstorming sessions at City Hall and grow from there to conversations with landowners along alternative routes.
Phil Kushlan, CCDC executive director, offered a brief presentation on the starter route during the retreat.
It would run from 12th Street to the Morrison Center on the campus of Boise State University, traveling across a dedicated two-way lane of travel on the Capital Bridge. To cut back on costs, it would feature cheaper replica streetcars and offer only very limited east-west travel downtown. To keep waiting time to 10-15 minutes, the system would include an additional two to three cars.
Kushlan also detailed several additional segments that have sparked community interest: a route from the Anne Frank Memorial east and then back to the BSU Student Union Building, which would cost $37 million, and a route from the Anne Frank Memorial to the Boise Depot, which would cost about $35 million.
He said the city would have its best shot at federal funding by applying for a $25 million federal grant that won’t force it to compete with major projects like New York City subway extensions. However, it would still likely also require the city to put up $5 million, similar to previous plans.
And that cost has some city officials worried.
“I don’t know where we’re going to get the $5 million from,” said Councilman Alan Shealy. “We just went through a budget session, and I don’t know if it was quite the Donner Pass, but it was bracing. I don’t know if the Council’s going to scrape together the money.”
Councilman David Eberle also said a dedicated funding source to operate the system is “just critical.”
Additionally, the city will have to reckon with the findings of the mayor’s task force, which offered the following conclusions in its report:
• Develop an economic development strategy and regional transportation plan first.
• Federal funding is an essential part of a rail-based transportation solution.
• An ability to fund ongoing operations has not been demonstrated.
• Work with public and private sector partners to obtain a dedicated source of transit funds (local option taxation would be a possibility).
• A local improvement district might be acceptable if benefits to property owners exceed costs.
• Any future development or transit initiative will very likely require strong measures to build public awareness.
The CCDC board will formally consider the task force’s report at its June 14 meeting.