Roundabout Red Out 

Warm Springs calming scaled back

Driving past the Victorian-style houses and old trees that line Warm Springs Avenue, the apparent placidity masks a heated dispute over traffic calming that has plagued the neighborhood for the last decade. Ada County Highway District's plan to incorporate a roundabout at the intersection of S. Granite Way and Old Penitentiary Road has now been canceled. But the agency settled on building an improved cross-walk and bulb-outs, doubly irking those who opposed the roundabout in the first place--particularly those concerned about the $86,000 already spent in planning for the now canceled traffic feature--and those who preferred improvements to some of the East End's uncontrolled interior streets.

"It was unfortunate this got to a point where it became so divisive," said Steven Lord, president of the East End Neighborhood Association.

Lord advocates the new plan to make minor calming improvements on Warm Springs, a busy residential street that in 2007 saw more than 10,000 cars each day. When the construction is complete, Warm Springs will feature new crosswalks and bulb-outs--a feature that expands the sidewalk and narrows the roadway. These renovations have the double function of slowing traffic and also shortening the distance across the road for easier pedestrian crossing.

"If you go out to the Warm Springs/Granite/Old Penitentiary Road intersection, you'll see that the crosswalk that takes people across is a really dangerous crossing. It's also a designated walk-to-school route. The hope is we can improve safety for everyone," said Lord.

Although the roundabout is out of the picture, the long process of planning it ran up a lengthy tab for which ACHD had secured a federal grant. The drawing for the round-about would have required property owners bordering the area to cede some land, and although homeowners initially agreed to do this, they rescinded their offer when they learned how much land it would require.

Additionally, the state-owned former correctional facilities to the north of Warm Springs agreed to donate land on the condition that ACHD construct a dividing wall to separate the facilities from the roadway, which would have had an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 price tag. Because of these complications, the ACHD Commission voted to cut the roundabout on Oct. 28.

But canceling the project put ACHD in jeopardy of losing the federal grant, which was dependent on a local match of funds, for which the land donations would have served. In order salvage the funds, EENA agreed to reallocate part of another $30,000 grant intended to improve crosswalks on Jefferson and McKinley streets.

The author of the Jefferson/McKinley grant, East End resident Cathy Fischer, disagreed with EENA's plans to divert funds.

"I'm very disappointed that it happened because a lot of hours and years of work had gone into obtaining that grant and I was disappointed seeing it diverted for a different cause. I'm hopeful that they can still do something with the money that they have left," said Fischer.

EENA and ACHD officials argued that the Jefferson/McKinley grant was going to expire before ACHD got around to doing the work and that it could be applied to Warm Springs quicker. The grant to improve Jefferson and McKinley was awarded by the City of Boise through federal transportation enhancement funds. City of Boise transportation planner Karen Gallagher oversaw the grant, and from her perspective, it was not clear that the Jefferson/McKinley project had run out of time.

"The neighborhood reinvestment grant issued in 2007 typically gives a three-year time frame to complete the work. And that's not a hard number. If nothing is moving, we'd like them to return the money and see it used elsewhere," said Gallagher.

While the improvements for Jefferson/McKinley are on hiatus, Lord is optimistic they will be done eventually.

"EENA will be applying for the same grant funding. There is still $12,500 left over," said Lord. "In order for projects like this to work, it's important for the original people to stay involved in the outset and all phases of execution. Everyone needs to stay engaged, collaborate and work together. It can't happen just because the neighborhood association takes on the project. I happen to do this because it's my passion," said Lord.

ACHD public information officer Robbie Johnson explained that getting a grant is only part of the process.

"ACHD thinks the pedestrian safety improvements on Jefferson/McKinley is a good project. However, getting a grant doesn't automatically trigger ACHD to do a project," she said. "Our traffic department got involved and tried to get it going, but there were issues with not enough staff. We needed to prioritize compared with other projects to establish what it's going to cost. There are a lot more steps that need to be taken. That project wasn't ready to go, so the funding was used for something else with a serious deadline."

After the Warm Springs renovations, ACHD has an eye on Jefferson/McKinley.

"The last piece of the puzzle is what to do about the improvement on Jefferson/ McKinley. ACHD is still interested in moving forward and seeing what can be done about that. We think it's a good idea. It just wasn't ready to go yet," said Johnson.

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