Boise spends big money to map out potential new transit system

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - As Boise booms in development, city planners say there's a need for a new downtown transit system.

"Cities that have these kinds of circulator systems are more successful economically," said Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg.

"In the future the growth is going to demand it," said Boise Public Works Spokesman Vince Trimboli. "Some would say even now it demands it."

Trimboli says that's why the city is paying for mapped out plans of how a 'downtown circulator' system would work in the City of Trees. The idea is to create an alternative form of transportation where people gather to work and play.

The Federal Transit Administration gave Boise $375,000 for the study. The city kicked in $62,500, which came out of its General Fund, which is made up of tax dollars. Another $62,500 was put in by the Capitol City Development Corporation, which is funded by parking revenue and tax increment financing.

The goal is to see if the City of Trees would benefit from a new transportation system and whether street cars, light rail, or a new bus system would work best. But planners decided they needed more money along the way.

"The amount of money we had for the study is really just enough for three solid areas," Trimboli said.

The city wanted to study four areas. With the money it had, it was able to cover the core, the east side of downtown and the Boise State area. But there wasn't enough left to cover the west side of downtown. So earlier this month, city leaders approved doling out another $63,000 of tax money to make that happen.

"That's an area where we have a new master plan, we've got a lot of development that's beginning to get interested, so we think it's very important to study there," Clegg said about the west side area that stretches all the way to Whitewater Park Boulevard.

KBOI asked taxpayers how they felt about the now $563,000 price tag that comes with the survey.

"Personally that's a lot of money to me to be doing a study," said Richard Torrey, who lives in Boise.

"I wonder why the buses aren't working," said Ben Gin, another Boise resident. "It seems to me like buses are a lot more versatile and unless they're maxed out, I don't know why we would want to go with a different system."

Councilwoman Clegg says a new system would serve a different purpose than Boise's already in-place bus system.

"It would run frequently and get you to various destinations within downtown once you get here," Clegg said. "It complements the existing bus system and is an addition to it. It's not duplicative."

It is a possibility that the city could spend the entire $563,000 on the study and decide to do nothing with the circulator plans.

"It may turn out that the status quo, the do nothing option, to keep it the way it is, is the best option," Trimboli told KBOI.

"That's what this study does is determine if it's feasible," Clegg said. "We think it is. This will make sure that it is."

But there are no guarantees. Still, city leaders say they feel the study will eventually pay off for taxpayers.

"Growing the economy, to me, is something that is worth that kind of an investment," Clegg said.

"There's definitely going to be a point in time where there will be a need for this, and you can either be ready or not be ready," Trimboli said. "I think this puts us in position to be ready."

The city plans to have the study done by the end of this year or early next year. If the plans get set into motion, construction could begin as early as 2017. Clegg says the downtown circulator system is only part of a larger, long-term transportation goal to connect Boise with other cities in the Treasure Valley through a rail system.