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No, Thanks 

Boise to ACHD: Put the brakes on Third/Bannock roundabout

The Boise City Council and Ada County Highway District have come to yet another gridlocked intersection.

ACHD has already proposed several roundabouts for Boise's downtown core as part of its larger plan to convert more one-way streets to two-ways--and the district would like to start at Third and Bannock streets (BW, Citydesk, "ACHD Hosts Open House on Mini Roundabout," May 15, 2014). But when Boise Comprehensive Planning Manager Daren Fluke briefed the City Council on the proposal June 17, lawmakers said "no, thanks"--not there and not now.

"We're not going to do it at this time," said Fluke, adding that the city would like to see a roundabout at a different location.

In fact, the Council and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter crafted a letter to ACHD commissioners, saying that while they support roundabouts as a traffic control measure, they worry about the timing and design of the Third and Bannock proposal.

"Specifically, we are very concerned with the loss of approximately nine on-street parking spaces and six mature trees in addition to the unanticipated timing conflict with the St. Luke's and Fort Boise master planning efforts now underway," the June 11 letter read. "We believe that making a significant investment in this intersection prior to the resolution of those efforts is premature."

The Council instead suggested moving downtown's inaugural mini-roundabout to a location on Grove Street.

Though ACHD doesn't need the Boise City Council's blessing to build the roundabout, once the district received the letter, it was equivalent to putting up a roadblock.

"We were supposed to start construction on the [Third and Bannock] intersection in September," said ACHD spokeswoman Nicole Pineda. "So it was already very far along in the planning process."

ACHD Senior Transportation Planner Matt Edmond told BW that the Council's rejection of the Third and Bannock roundabout meant he needed to go back to the drawing board--but it's not like this was the first the city had heard of roundabout plans for Third and Bannock.

Edmond said the Third and Bannock location had been on the city's radar since December 2012 as part of the Downtown Boise Implementation Plan (BW, News, "A New Direction," June 19, 2013), a planning document that included buffered bike lanes, conversion of several downtown streets from one-ways to two-ways, and a handful of mini-roundabouts to replace traditional downtown intersections.

Edmond said the plan explicitly stated Third and Bannock would be the pilot site.

"We feel like this is a good location for it," Edmond said. "I'm confident on what's going to happen with the intersection and that's going to be an increase of traffic."

He said a mini-roundabout--a smaller version of a regular roundabout with only one lane and a low center island--can move up to 1,500 cars in a peak hour, while a four-way stop couldn't do that without notable congestion. He added that a roundabout is a much more dynamic way to move traffic, with lower emissions and reduced traffic delays. What's more, once that street is a two-way, traffic is sure to increase.

Despite the city's concerns and suggestion to move the project to Grove Street, Edmond isn't excited about that idea.

"I guess we could talk about it," he said. "I don't know if taxpayers would be thrilled knowing we spent $67,500 on designing it, then not building it and having to design it for somewhere else."

During a May 14 ACHD-hosted open house on the Third and Bannock roundabout, Christy Echevarria, who lives on the corner of Bannock and Third streets said she "wasn't opposed to it" after learning more about the proposal. Meanwhile, other members of the public said there wasn't enough traffic to warrant a roundabout right now, and wished the money could be spent elsewhere. At the May 14 open house, ACHD officials indicated that the project had a green light, but now that remains to be seen.

And all of this comes after the feud between ACHD and the city peaked when ACHD scrubbed away any evidence that buffered bike lanes had recently been offered to cyclists on Capitol Boulevard, Main and Idaho streets, despite the City Council's plea for more time (BW, Citydesk, "ACHD Bike Lane Removal," June 9, 2014). Of the failed bike lane pilot, Mayor Dave Bieter told BW, "We had a pretty good idea of where ACHD was likely to go on this. It's almost sad."

Edmond said he remained firm that Third and Bannock should be downtown's first roundabout intersection, but the project timeline is up in the air at this point. That's where the ACHD board of commissioners comes in. The commissioners will discuss the letter sent by the city and decide what direction to take on Wednesday, June 25.

Edmond said he hopes he can address the city's issues with the loss of parking spaces and trees.

"We're open to putting the project on hold until we can come to some agreement," he said. "[Moving forward without the city] isn't the right way to go at this point. We may not be able to please everyone, but I think we can look at some ways to improve it."

Meanwhile, ACHD isn't wasting any time in engagng the public with an even bigger roundabout project for the 36th Street, Hill Road and Catalpa Drive intersection. The one-lane roundabout, shaped more like an egg-timer, will be the subject of a public open house, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26 at ACHD's Garden City headquarters.

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