Race Against the Train 

Seat 4 council candidates take positions on the streetcar

Boise City Council candidate David Litster launched his campaign outside City Hall on Thursday, voicing his opinion on what he calls Mayor Dave Bieter's "trolley folly." Litster's announcement came on the heels of official endorsements from Steven Siebers and Leland Lay after they dropped out of the race. Siebers and Lay stood beside Litster, saying his platform mirrors their own.

"It's not easy to launch a campaign and then end it, but they concluded that with three people in the race against one relatively liberal, well-positioned candidate, the liberal would be a shoo-in," stated Litster.

Litster now faces TJ Thomson in the race for the seat being vacated by Jim Tibbs.

Thomson said Thursday that Siebers's and Lay's support of Litster was interesting in that the race has become, "not about the city ... it's become about 'beating TJ.'"

Litster's major concern at his Oct. 1 announcement was punctuated by Debra Miller's wood-paneled Boise Trolley Tours bus parked adjacent to City Hall and adorned with a "Trolley Folly" banner.

The controversial project has been painted both as a viable renewable transportation resource that would stimulate the economy and as a decadent example of government waste. It is to be the political football of the short City Council campaign season.

The same morning as Litster's announcement, a few blocks away on Idaho Street, the city hosted an open house to provide information to the public about the streetcar proposal. The plan calls for a 2.3-mile circuit of rail lines for an electric streetcar that would run on Idaho and Main streets.

Thomson, a retired Air Force veteran with a bachelor's degree from Boise State and a Masters of Public Affairs from Indiana University, has yet to declare an official position on the streetcar project. He seeks to avoid what he calls a "knee-jerk" reaction on the issue, opting to wait until the Economic and Engineering Feasibility Assessment is completed by an independent task force.

Proponents of the streetcar believe that the clean form of public transportation would drastically improve the carbon footprint of Boise. According to the official boisestreetcar.org Web site, "the land use and development opportunity with a streetcar encourages reinvestment, economic growth, and neighborhood vitality." City Hall backers, including the mayor, argue that the trolley would be more than what the Boise Guardian blog calls, "just a novelty."

"This is phase one of a larger streetcar system. All of the studies indicate that it needs more than this phase one, but we have to start somewhere," said Boise economic development assistant Cece Gassner.

Gassner said about 350 people visited the city's open house and though the comments had not been tallied, she said they were split by roughly a third for, a third against and a third with questions.

The city is betting that a fixed line would provide businesses along the route a healthy audience of people to advertise to, and potentially pull customers from the trains. And the hope is that the presence of the streetcar will increase property value, create jobs and pay back in dividends.

Those against the idea, including Litster, tour operator Miller and Dave Frazier at the Guardian, feel that the $60 million proposed for funding for the project is an unnecessary cost.

Litster advocated for focusing on a "small government footprint" rather than a "small carbon footprint."

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