Fifth St. and 6th St. in Downtown Boise could soon change from one-way to two-way streets soon.
During a joint meeting of the Ada County Highway District and Boise City Council Thursday, staff for Capital City Development Commission presented an updated plan and cost-sharing agreement for the project.
As BoiseDev reported in 2019, an earlier plan to make the change fell apart when the highway district reclassified the project as economic development, effectively killing it. But with changes in elected officials, both in the city and highway district – as well as urban renewal agency CCDC – the project perked back to life.
Changes to approach and flow
“It’s a great opportunity to work together to impact and really support business downtown,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said. “We can… benefit our economy and our residents.”
The city and ACHD converted several streets downtown from one-way to two-way traffic in the past decade, including Jefferson St., 13th St., 14th St., and others.
“A hugely beneficial aspect of this – in a city, in an urban place – two-way travel supports a vibrant business district,” City of Boise Planning Director Tim Keane said. “You have had great success making conversions in the last few years. Now, it’s to 5th and 6th streets. A disjointed grid creates an opportunity for confusion and accidents.”
Zach Piepmeyer with CCDC said that the conversion would mean some intersections would be slower for drivers, but a key bottleneck would improve.
“While delays on the majority of intersections in the corridor would increase, southbound traffic on 6th St. at evening peak would improve considerably,” he said.
CCDC to chip in and lead project
CCDC would lead the project and provide a portion of funding. CCDC says it will put $2.1 million in funding from its River-Myrtle/Old Boise urban renewal district into the project, with ACHD chipping in $4.1 million. State law bars the urban renewal agency from spending funds for projects outside urban renewal boundaries, so its funding will only go toward the sections of 5th and 6th between Myrtle St. and Jefferson St.
The clock is ticking for CCDC to do projects in the area. River-Myrtle/Old Boise district will terminate in 2025.
ACHD commissioner Alexis Pickering asked why the project just now came to the commission.
“It seems unanimous from our standpoint and a no-brainer from my standpoint, too,” Pickering said. “I know we’re running up against a deadline… Why did it take so long to have this conversation?”
Boise planning director Tim Keane told Pickering that that was a question for her agency’s staff.
“I have had a few close calls in the area (walking) dealing with one ways,” Boise City Council Member Lisa Sánchez said. “I don’t know if it’s because we have an influx of newcomers who aren’t used to the one-way grid… I think it’s timely.”
Future of Front & Myrtle
Fifth St. and 6th St. both interface with Front St. and Myrtle St – which the Idaho Transportation Department controls. Keane said his team had met with ITD, governor’s office representatives, and others in state government and indicated they supported the change.
McLean said future changes to Front and Myrtle are also possible – but for now, the city wants to focus on 5th and 6th.
“The priority is… recognizing we need to make progress for our businesses,” McLean said. “ITD has signaled an interest in discussing the corridor of Front and Myrtle as a whole, but I wouldn’t want this to be waylaid.”
In 2017, ITD, the city, ACHD, and CCDC collaborated on a study of the Front & Myrtle corridor, but nothing came of it. But elected officials at the city, highway district, and state levels have all shifted.
Front and Myrtle are also both one-way streets, with speeds of up to 35 MPH and fewer pedestrian crossings than the rest of downtown. The city has long looked at ways to better knit the extensions of the I-184 Connector freeway into Downtown Boise but has met resistance from ITD.