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Boise to spend $3.5 million to steam ahead on downtown rail plan

UPDATE:A prior version of this story used different budget figures provided to BoiseDev by the City of Boise and confirmed on a CCDC document. Story updated with latest information.

The City of Boise and Capital City Development Corporation are preparing to put public money toward the vision for a fixed-rail streetcar in Downtown Boise.

During a Monday meeting, the CCDC proposed to spend $2.3 million during the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years – which would be partially matched by $1.2 million coming from the City of Boise’s general fund – for a total of more than $3.5 million of public tax dollars.

The money would be used for engineering of the roughly 5-mile streetcar line – and is only the first step in a project that could cost well more than $100 million if built.

Despite mixed public feedback and a circulator committee that did not advocate specifically for rail, Boise City Council in April voted to move forward with the fixed-rail concept.

The City has a request for qualifications out for “professional services consultant… focusing on advancing the Downtown Boise Circulator project.” Two firms responded and a final award has not yet been made, according to public records.

City of Boise Communications Director Mike Journee said the city is currently working to put together financing on the rail project – which could include federal dollars.

“We are in the pre-application phase,” he said.“We are working with consultants and others to understand our financing and understanding and we can enter into a small starts grant program,” he said.

Journee said that while the City Council advocated for fixed-rail, city staffers are also looking at potential ideas like autonomous vehicles.

“(Staff are working to) Identify and evaluate areas of concern and potential challenges and monitor and explore emerging technologies,” he said.

One member of the city’s circulator steering committee and prominent Downtown Boise developer Clay Carley told BoiseDev earlier this summer he is not in favor of a rail-based solution – and would rally his peers to “vote against” any such effort. He instead advocated for an autonomous bus or similar solution.

In its RFQ, obtained by BoiseDev, the City is asking for firms to assist with:

  • Assisting the City in developing a local funding plan which include a local funding portfolio which may include local improvement districts, Tax increment financing, institutional partnerships and others opportunities
  • Identifying Federal grant opportunities with particular expertise in Federal Transit Administrations grants and TIGER expertise
  • Identifying and evaluating emerging technologies
  • Ridership estimates
  • Economic activity estimates
  • Developing construction cost estimates
  • Developing operation and maintenance estimates
  • Developing short term and long term schedules and plans

What’s next?

For the City of Boise, Journee says the public feedback window has for now closed – and that the City Council has approved the rail plan. A process over one-to-two years will play out that includes the funding piece.

The public has a chance to attend a public hearing for the Capital City Development Corporation on Tuesday August 29th at noon to weigh in on the budget outlay.

Any final say on a fixed-rail streetcar ultimately lies with the Ada County Highway District, which controls the right-of-way for all streets in the county.

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