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New transportation system could be coming to the Treasure Valley

Photo by Taylor Rico-Pekerol

The Community Planning Association of Southern Idaho (COMPASS) has been taking the first steps toward implementing a high-capacity transit system in the area. COMPASS is an agency made up of local governments that are responsible for transportation planning in both Ada and Canyon County.

In 2020, COMPASS received a study that explored various types of high-capacity transportation systems they could be incorporated into the Treasure Valley. This study was an update to a previous one done in 2009, and served to bring current and relevant information into consideration. Surveys were also conducted to determine if the public was interested in high-capacity transit.

The most recent COMPASS survey was conducted to determine what the public wants in a high-capacity transit system and 11,706 individuals participated in the survey. 

A majority of participants said they would prefer the system to be separated from traffic, the inclusion of more stops and a more expensive system would be a better long term investment for the community. There was a mixed response to whether this system would focus its service during rush hour or not.

[Photo of a Valley Regional Transit bus on campus.]
Photo by Taylor Rico-Pekerol | The Arbiter

COMPASS has not yet chosen the type of high-capacity transit that will be put in place, and the Treasure Valley likely won’t see this new form of transportation for another 20 years.

Rachel Hakkula, an Associate Planner with COMPASS, explained the results of both the study and the survey.

“The first two surveys that we did for our long range plan indicated that people were interested in high-capacity transit,” Hakkula said.

Hakkula cited population growth as the primary reason for the project. The study supports the growth, showing that the two counties had experienced a total growth of 23% between 2010 and 2019.

“With more people, we think we’re going to need more transportation options to get people around because the congestion, especially on I-84, the major East-West connector, is going to continue to increase and make it difficult for people to travel,” Hakkula said. “With Boise being that main employment center on the east end of the region, we need to have more options to get people where they need to go.”

The study provided several types of transportation systems for COMPASS to consider, but they were able to narrow it down to three options: commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit.

“There are more options out there, but those are the ones that our studies have shown to be best for this project and this region,” Hakkula said.

Diego Espinosa is a senior business major living in Meridian and commutes from his home to Boise State nearly every day. 

Espinosa echoed the concerns that COMPASS has in regards to the population growth of the region and the traffic conditions that have followed.

“I was on a freeway the other day, and it’s getting a little dangerous,” Espinosa said. “Even when I was taking the back roads, I found them to be super busy.”

When asked if he would use one of the high-capacity transit systems being considered by COMPASS, Espinosa said yes. However, he said cost would be a primary factor.

“Being a college student that commutes not only to school, but to work as well, you’re spending a lot on gas,” Espinosa said.

Nearly a third of students who enrolled for the 2019-2020 semesters were commuter students according to enrollment data for that time.

Jillian Moroney, a clinical professor for Boise State’s Urban Studies and Community Development program, explained that multiple forms of transportation are very important within a community.

“[It] makes communities more accessible and more vibrant. It makes them more equitable for all sorts of different people because they’ve been planned, not just for car owners,” Moroney said.

Moroney does see a major financial benefit for students if any of the three systems were implemented. It would remove the need for getting a parking permit for some students, while also allowing them to explore more housing options outside of Boise. However, she does see a potential complication with this project.

“We have historically been very dependent on cars,” Moroney said. “There’s already some hesitancy to use public transportation and if it goes into effect and isn’t used, taxpayers are going to point to that as a waste of money.”

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