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Boise, ACHD quarrel over conversion of downtown streets from one way to two

For years, cars on 5th St. and 6th St. have adapted to a one-way system.

Northbound vehicles use 5th St.

Southbound vehicles use 6th St.

But a plan to convert the roads from the one-way grid to two-way traffic is on ice. The decision left Boise officials and a prominent landowner in the area frustrated.

BoiseDev first reported in 2017 on the plan to change-up the traffic flow on the two streets to revert to two-way traffic.

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It’s part of an overall project spearheaded by the City of Boise and Ada County Highway District called the Downtown Boise Implementation Plan.

But ACHD dropped plans to convert the streets earlier this year as part of a reprioritization of projects during a commissioners retreat.

The portions of 5th and 6th streets that were under consideration for changes.

“So now it’s not going to happen as far as I know,” Old Boise LLC principal Clay Carley said. “And everybody that has anything to do with our downtown thinks it should.”

“He’s rightly upset, Darren Fluke with the City of Boise said. “We did a ton of outreach on that, beyond the ACHD process. We talked to all the business and landowners along there and found broad support.”

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On — then off

During a February meeting of the ACHD commissioners, the group set funding priorities. The district does its budget in three buckets: economic development, community programs and capital maintenance.

Commissioners decided to deprioritize projects it put in the economic development bucket and dropped all funding for them.

That put the 5th & 6th project on the back burner.

“The City of Boise and CCDC argued heavily during the adoption that some of the main benefits of two-conversions are for economic development,” ACHD spokesperson Natalie Shaver told BoiseDev by email. “As a result, ACHD proposed in the FY2019-2023 Integrated Five-Year Work Plan Initial Draft to move the project into its Economic Development program.”

That moved the project from the community funding budget area over to economic development. The two decisions put together killed the street conversions.

“ACHD decided behind closed doors decided that they couldn’t or wouldn’t fund it,” Fluke said. “They put it in the out years of their plan. They left it in the holding zone.”

Shaver offered a different version of events.

“The City reviewed the initial draft (of the five-year work plan) on August 21, 2018. Their comment letter to ACHD simply asked that construction of 5th and 6th be retained in 2019 but did not express concern with the reclassification of the project,” she said. “The ACHD Commission reviewed the City’s comment in a work session on September 5, 2018 and did not direct any changes regarding this project.”

That put the project in the economic development pile, which commissioners decided not to fund during the February meeting.

New garage impacted

“I’m perplexed by ACHD thinking they should be making these decisions and not just doing what cities want, unless safety or extraordinary cost are involved,” Carley said.

His frustration stems from potentially tricky access to a garage he is building on Front St. between 5th and 6th. He put the project together based on the idea the streets would flow both ways, but now that they aren’t, the project has to adjust

ACHD said its board of commissioners review priorities annually, and a shift could bring the conversions back to life.

“With limited resources, ACHD must prioritize the use of its maintenance dollars on the greatest need,” Shaver said. “5th and 6th do not meet that criteria at this time.”

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