ACHD Commissioner Rebecca Arnold is looking for a fifth term, but a challenger is hoping to cut her tenure short.
Former ACHD Pedestrian Advisory Committee member and political newcomer Alexis Pickering is facing off with Arnold this fall. Arnold is hoping to continue her record of fiscal responsibility and a strict focus on spending ACHD funds on road widening and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, while Pickering is hoping for ACHD to fight for more leeway to invest in public transportation.
As the Treasure Valley grows, the region’s lacking public transportation system has become a major point of discussion. With no local option taxing authority for voters to approve to pay for a system and no state funds, it has left cities and counties to pay for bus systems. Boise has been slowly dumping more funds into the system, but is looking for more support in building a stronger Valley Regional Transit system.
While Arnold says she thinks public transportation is a good idea, she stands by the legal interpretation saying ACHD cannot contribute to a transit system or pay for infrastructure to support it. She also said it should be up to Valley Regional Transit or regional planning agency COMPASS to petition the state legislature on the issue.
This has been a major bone of contention between her and Commissioner Jim Hansen, who is also up for reelection in District One.
“I see us as a partner with VRT, but not to the extent there would be a transfer of money to VRT,” she said. “It’s just legally not going to happen where we transfer money to VRT unless there are changes in the law.”
Pickering is critical of Arnold’s stance. Instead of waiting for changes to the law, Pickering said she wanted to be more proactive.
“From the statute perspective, I think it’s convenient to say you support something and don’t do anything to go change the statute,” she said. “I would petition our legislature and get a regional effort to update that statute to include transit as well.”
For ACHD races, only the people living in each district vote for that race. District 2 covers an area of the Boise Bench, west Boise, and Meridian. The area is shown in teal on the map above.
Arnold was elected to ACHD sixteen years ago, and has been a familiar face in Treasure Valley for years. She ran for Boise Mayor in 2019 against former Mayor Dave Bieter and Mayor Lauren McLean, and also ran to be a judge in the Fourth District in 2014. She is an attorney and a former accountant.
Pickering currently works for the Western Idaho Community Health Collective, where she works for Central District Health and Southwest District Health on issues related to transportation and health. She also previously worked as a policy analyst and if elected, would be the first millennial to serve on the commission.
To widen, or not to widen?
One of Pickering’s goals is to reduce the agency’s push to widen streets as much as possible, and instead try to improve the low-stress bicycle network and pedestrian pathways. She said this is especially important on State Street, where ACHD is a partner in the plan to expand the roadway and add bus rapid transit along the corridor.
“I just know we can’t widen our way out of that problem and we don’t have a ton of space to willy nilly add lanes on State Street,” she said. “Whatever makes the best use of the space we do have and respects and supports our businesses and our residents, that’s what I would be supportive of.”
Arnold is proud of the progress the highway district has made since she took office, including increasing the investment to community programs like Safe Routes to School and adding miles of bike lanes throughout the county. But, she said it has been difficult to keep up with the growth in the valley as certain areas have rapidly shifted to dense development when the highway district has no say in zoning decisions.
“We do base our planning with the cities on their comprehensive plans, so when they make changes to a plan where it shows low density in a particular area and that’s what we’ve been planning for and building for and suddenly you get a change to a high density use it makes it difficult to plan for that,” she said. “ACHD is kind of in position, whether we like it or not, where we have to react to changes in the land use.”
Impact of growth
For the first time in recent years, ACHD increased its impact fees 9% in the fiscal year 2021 budget. Pickering applauded the increase, which she said would help the agency fund more projects and keep up with the growth in the valley as cars continue to crowd the streets.
“Historically ACHD hadn’t been charging the full impact fee,” Pickering said. “I know just recently my opponent has been saying they’ve raised it, which is great, but that’s a start and not the end goal.”
Arnold also supported the increase in impact fees, but she defended her decision to vote for a budget without any property tax boost. This included either the 3% base increase allowed by Idaho code each year, or an increase allowed due to new construction in the county. Ada County sent a letter earlier in the year urging ACHD to increase taxes, but Arnold said she preferred to keep costs down.
“People are struggling,” she said. “People were struggling to pay their property taxes before COVID and now people are struggling even more so why would you raise property taxes in the middle of a pandemic if you don’t have to? We didn’t.”