Streetcar Task Force Report Back Approaches 

Feasibility study due early next year; group getting more detailed

Boise's downtown Streetcar Task Force, a group of some three dozen stakeholders including property owners, downtown bankers, planners and a grab-bag of prominent Boiseans, wants to know what the City Council plans to do with their feasibility study once it's complete.

The task force has been looking into funding, design and operations of the streetcar line for almost a year now, and is getting into very specific recommendations, including car design, hours of operation and options for governance and operations of the line.

Bodo developer Mark Rivers, a task force member, was surprised at the level of detail in some of the preliminary recommendations reviewed Friday morning. Rivers asked what the City Council would do with the task force study, which will be issued early next year, after the city finds out whether or not it will receive $40 million in federal stimulus funds toward the project.

"I think the community should have a seat at the table immediately," Rivers said.

By community, he means members of the Local Improvement District, or LID, that would fund 15 to 25 percent of the construction costs of the streetcar. The LID will be made up of property owners within a three-block radius of the tracks.

City Council President Maryanne Jordan said that the council is indeed awaiting the report.

"I don't want to presuppose the task force report," said Jordan. "I am confident that they have structured themselves in a way that will get us good detailed information and that will allow us to take some next steps in decision making."

One idea on the table is to empanel a Streetcar Commission that would have some authority over the line and involve members of the LID. Valley Regional Transit, the local public transportation authority or the city would have to approve this structure. Alternatively, VRT or the city could assume control over the streetcar system and/or its daily operations.

Cece Gassner, the city's point person on the streetcar project, told Rivers that the council is well aware of the work the task force is doing and will likely weigh all of its recommendations, asking further questions, reading all of the reports and studies that have been completed, and taking public comment on the feasibility study as well.

Task force members also discussed lead time for ordering streetcars (which can be 24 to 30 months), discounting residential property assessments within the LID, and future phases, or spurs, to the downtown line.

Rivers has been talking about putting in a north-south route to Boise State and the Boise Depot, which would run near, or even through Bodo, prior to the downtown line. After the meeting Rivers said he thought there was more development potential south of the Boise River and a lot more people—20,000 students plus faculty and staff—who would benefit from the tracks.

Phil Kushlan, executive director of the Capital City Development Corp., which has taken the lead in coordinating the feasibility study, reminded the task force that potential circulator routes have been examined since at least 2003 in the Downtown Mobility Study, which pointed to the downtown route as the most logical first phase. Also, the city applied for the federal funding based on an east-west downtown route.

Still, Kushlan proposed an initial look at costs associated with taking track over the river. He called it a "fatal flaws analysis."

Rivers said he "resembled" that comment.

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