The Capital City Development Corp. voted to spend at least $879,000 to build six transit stations along Main Street and Fairview Ave. in the west Downtown Boise area.
The projects would add new transit islands along Main St. and Fairview Ave., in an area revamped in 2019. Ada County Highway District launched a project to rework the two streets in 2017 to add upgraded bike lanes and on-street parking while decreasing travel lanes.
ACHD implemented the plan in 2019, sparking lots of questions from the public, as BoiseDev reported at the time. ACHD admitted the initial implementation was “confusing” and later made changes.
The changes also sparked concern from Valley Regional Transit, which operates bus service in the Treasure Valley.
“When those improvements went in, VRT had some concerns from a safety standpoint,” CCDC Project Manager Amy Fimbel said. “They actually had to close four of their existing transit shelters and relocate them. Their operators didn’t like having to cross over the larger, wider bike lanes to service the curbside stops. It was also a challenge for them to reenter traffic.”
CCDC then stepped in to add the series of six transit stations. Five would be built directly by the agency, and the sixth would involve St. Luke’s Health System and sit next to a new hospital facility on Main St.
The projects will cost significantly more than budgeted and estimated, according to the agency.
For the main group of five shelters, the bid came back at $718,495. The shelter at St. Luke’s would cost an additional $161,000.
Jordyn Neerdaels, the spokesperson for CCDC, told BoiseDev the engineering estimate for the group of five stations came back at $382,000 (not including the St. Luke’s station) – about 47% less than the final bid. But she noted the estimate was based on historical data that was somewhat dated.
The budget for the project totaled $600,000 to build seven stations – or about $85,700 per station. The agency later decided to build six at an average cost of $146,583 each, or 71% more on a per station basis. The entire project came in above 46.5% above budget, with one fewer station built.
The project cost does not include the shelter itself, which Valley Regional Transit will pay for separately.
“This amount exceeds the engineer estimate and the agency’s initial project budget,” CCDC Contracts Specialist Kathy Wanner said. “In follow-up discussions with both the engineer and Wright Brothers to better understand why, the agency learned that WB had received multiple bids for each package. Material costs are extremely high due to the pandemic and contractors in the area are experiencing labor shortages due to the high demand in the construction market.”
Wanner told the CCDC board staff felt the project shouldn’t wait.
“With construction costs continuing to climb, delaying the project in an attempt to get better bids seemed ill advised,” she said.
Concerns over cost, safety
Former Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who sits on the CCDC Commission, urged the agency not to move forward with the project.
“This is a big number,” he said of the expenditure on the first portion of the project. “For better or worse, vehicular miles have gone up not down. That does not look like the best we can do in that area. I’d like to take another whack at this and accommodate those users owners and interests along the corridor.”
Bieter said by putting the transit stations in, it would lock the corridor into a configuration, whereas the current treatment just uses lane striping, which can be revamped. He also mentioned BoiseDev’s reporting last week that ACHD intends to move to separated bike lanes on arterials like Main and Fairview, and said this could complicate that effort.
The transit islands did not go through a public hearing process. The City of Boise applied to itself earlier this year to approve the islands. The city’s planning staff approved the islands at an administrative level without a hearing for design review.
Monday’s CCDC meeting and vote on the project also was not a public hearing, but the commission did allow several neighboring landowners to speak. Randall Petersen, who owns the land under Fairly Reliable Bob’s at 23rd St. and Main St., and Grant Petersen, Jr., who owns Bronco Motors at 27th St. and Main spoke out. The men are cousins.
“The concerning thing for me is safety,” Randall Petersen said. “Main St. is the secondary way of all traffic going out of downtown. We’ve had significant backlogs of traffic. You are putting (the islands) out in the stream of traffic. We put a couch out there and it is scary to be out there. Taking a poor idea by ACHD and making it worse by putting in permanent infrastructure is a poor use of our funds.”
CCDC staff said it relocated and resized one of the transit islands near Fairly Reliable Bob’s to eliminate a conflict with an area where the business unloads vehicles for sale.
Petersen Jr., who said he is an avid cyclist, also raised concerns.
“Not a lot of people ride bikes on that road. Some of it for safety and some of it is not where they want to ride. The sidewalk between 27th and 23rd on Main is 20 or 25 feet wide. One idea is to use some of the sidewalk (for the shelters).”
Designed for mutliple modes
Ultimately, the CCDC commission voted in favor of the islands.
“We have heard from the Petersens both in writing and in person,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said. “This has been something the city has hoped for and worked on for quite a while. Our staff met with the Petersens to hear their concerns. We met with CCDC and ACHD and bike and (pedestrian) safety experts to ensure that the designs were such that protected people, allowing for our future hopes that ACHD will have separated bike lanes here.”
She said she felt this was the right decision.
“We recognize that not everyone is happy, and we apologize for that, it’s not possible at all times to do that, and this design is such that gets to our goals of creating mobility for everyone in different ways in a really tough corridor.”
Bieter voted against both projects, and commissioner Gordon Jones voted against the group of five shelters, and for the shelter in front of St. Lukes.