While Valley Regional Transit considers a proposed downtown transit station to be a long-term solution to Boise's transit needs, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter is calling the multi-modal center a temporary solution at best.
"We don't have any modes," Bieter said last week, after the VRT board voted to submit an environmental review to the Federal Transit Administration to build on a lot fronted by 11th Street. "It's a better operating central bus station, hopefully with a side order of a street car," he added.
VRT settled on the 11th Street site, which is on a half block between Bannock and Idaho streets, after public outcry scuttled a plan to locate the transit center in the 10th Street right-of-way. But at the request of the Boise City Council, VRT, the regional transit authority, will still consider three other on-street sites as it waits for approval from the FTA.
"We accept that there is always going to be somebody that doesn't want it wherever we are going to put it," said VRT Executive Director Kelli Fairless.
Fairless said the three additional options will likely be on 11th Street adjacent to the proposed site on the blocks that surround Boise City Hall and in the area where buses currently wait for passengers along Main and Idaho near Eighth Street.
Fairless said she thought property and business owners near the transit center sites would embrace the idea, but that she had been a bit naive.
"I really thought they would see it as a positive thing, if nothing else as a wait-and-see kind of approach," Fairless said.
A rendering of the 11th Street transit center presented to the VRT board showed an attractive street frontage with buses entering a terminal that runs through the building in the center of the block.
Fairless cautioned the board that the drawings were very preliminary.
The lone vote against forwarding the 11th Street site for an environmental review came from Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman who told BW after the meeting that one of VRT's own assessments showed that the current arrangement for buses in downtown Boise has the highest value of all the proposed options.
"I'm not convinced that we have the right site yet," Ullman said, pulling out a long chart comparing the 10th and 11th street sites to the status quo. "Does this community want this?"
Another question Ullman and other members of the board raised was the public process in selecting the site. While Boise held a recent public hearing on the transit center, the bus company board did not. Board members, comprised of representatives of most of the cities and public agencies in Canyon and Ada counties, spent about 15 minutes debating whether to take testimony from two people who wanted to speak to the 11th Street plan—one for and one against. They were allowed to testify.
Fairless also points out that the 11th Street site, known as Site H, was preceded by a public vetting of sites A through G over the course of three or four years. Poorly designed bus shelters, long distances between transfers and a lack of facilities for drivers and passengers are among the rationales for a new station.
A $9.5 million grant was written into the last federal transportation spending bill to help pay for the transit center in Boise. The city and its redevelopment agency will chip in some more money to secure the grant.
But Bieter called the $11 million plan an intermediate step until better, high-capacity transit is built into the western Treasure Valley.
"We're talking about a bigger facility down the road," Bieter said.
While the transit center will cater to pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders, a link to Bieter's proposed streetcar is also part of the proposal. But tying the center into a future, still hypothetical light rail or train to Nampa will be more complex.
Bieter favors locating the transit center at City Hall.
"This is a tough use but an important one," he said at another recent public meeting. "And we're willing to put it in front of us."