A years-long disagreement over 5th St. and 6th St. in Downtown Boise boiled over again Wednesday night.
Last week, during a joint meeting of the Ada County Highway District Commission and Boise City Council, representatives of the city and urban renewal agency Capital City Development Corp. presented an updated plan to change the two streets from one-way to two-way traffic.
Elected officials in the room seemed in general agreement to go ahead, but no formal vote was held.
‘Surprise… at inconsistencies
Last night, ACHD Executive Director Bruce Wong gave a 13-minute presentation to the board of commissioners on the project, which he said were “the facts” of the situation.
“As a result of (last week’s) meeting, multiple parties have reached out to us expressing their surprise at several inconsistencies and comments made during the presentation,” Wong said. “We have recently become aware of CCDC and City of Boise’s intention to provide the modified alternative and remove key turn lanes that were identified in the feasibility study by you all… prior you alls (sic). This is a significant change that will have an impact on the operations and functioning of the corridor.”
Last week, the city and CCDC indicated that in order to preserve parking spaces along 5th and 6th, it hoped to change the configuration of a turn lane to keep some spaces intact.
He told the commission that he heard from the Idaho Transportation Department that it did not support the conversion of the two ACHD streets to two-way traffic. ITD controls Front St. and Myrtle St. as part of the state’s highway system, which both intersect with 5th and 6th.
Wong cited a letter to ACHD from former Gov. Butch Otter in 2017 that said the state didn’t support the conversion, and the agency had no further follow-up indicating a change in position.
Otter is no longer governor. Current Gov. Brad Little’s spokesperson was non-commital on his position.
“The Governor’s staff is aware of the issue, and our office looks forward to all entities involved working toward a solution,” spokesperson Madison Hardy told BoiseDev.
A slide presented by City of Boise Planning Director Tim Keane and CCDC project manager Zach Piepmeyer during the earlier joint Boise/ACHD meeting titled “recent outreach updates” and listed ITD, the Idaho Department of Administration, the Senate Pro Tem, Governor’s office, and other stakeholders.
“We have continued meeting with all those that have had a stake in this, including the State of Idaho… that involve the state, ITD and Department of Administration, and administration itself, and in no case have we heard concerns – specific concerns – about the fifth and sixth street conversions, and we kept that dialogue up until the last couple of weeks, continuing to talk to the state as to any concerns they might have had, and have heard none,” Keane said at the joint ACHD-Boise meeting last week.
The mayor’s office told BoiseDev at the time that they believed the state wouldn’t interfere.
During last night’s meeting, after Wong’s address, ITD Board Member Julie DeLorenzo told the ACHD board the state highway agency’s position had not changed
“ITD has never been in favor of this project,” she said. “For us to have found out it was being approved when we weren’t even informed it has come back up is putting your staff and ours in an unpleasant position.”
“During last week’s presentation, it was suggested that this project should be a no-brainer. However, this complex project has a complicated history, including multiple commission meetings, varied commission decisions, a request for reconsideration, and conflicting ups and downs related to project
funding,” Wong said.
Commissioner Jim Hansen took issue with Wong’s presentation.
“My perception of our meeting last week was ‘OK, we’re moving forward with what we approved in 2017.’ The city made a request to make a couple of little adjustments including to a key turn lane,” Hansen said. “With all due respect, director, if we could have led with that – let’s work on the few things, the adjustments the city would like to make, instead of doing the litany that has raised suspicions over the city’s motives or actions, that would have been more productive. “I found the whole litany of the history inappropriate for a discussion of moving forward.”
“The direction was that our staff would engage and get (up to speed) on the facts and we would have it on our agenda as soon as possible,” commissioner Mary May said. “We never took any action or had a motion about going forward with previous funding. Three of us weren’t even here for that, so we’d have to have a protracted discussion on that.”
Hansen noted that ITD also expressed its concerns in 2017, but the ACHD commission at the time still decided to move forward. He said it later removed funding for the project, but the approval still stood. He said the project funding was approved last month as part of the agency’s budget.
“All we’re going to talk about is the change to one little turn lane and some parking associated with it,” he said, noting that many state staffers have moved from downtown Boise to the State of Idaho Chinden Campus in the last several years.
“Whether there were misunderstandings or misinterpretations, we should be able to iron those out,” Commissioner Dave McKinney said. “I’m not sure that approving the project is going to be quite the simple process that Commissioner Hansen claims it will be. Nevertheless, I think we should move forward… as soon as possible.”
“My question Bruce, is you don’t believe certain coordination has occurred but did you invite the City of Boise and CCDC to this famed meeting where you heard all this dissenting opinion about the project?”
“Commissioner Pickering, we did not ask for comments, they came to us,” Wong said referring to the state and ITD.
“I think our CCDC partners and City of Boise have done a really great job of that public outreach. So the fact that we are hearing concerns late to the game, I feel like those can still be captured and shared and heard at the next meeting. It feels a little bamboozling because we haven’t received any of these complaints. You haven’t shared them with us prior to this meeting. I’m circumspect because we haven’t had transparency about who we’ve had these complaints from, and it hasn’t been public record by any means. I agree with Commissioner Hansen, I don’t feel like this was an appropriate use of your director’s report. I feel like if there were concerns, we should have heard immediately from you.”
Commissioners debated when to bring the plan back, and ultimately agreed to no later than early November.
“As we said in the meeting last week with the mayor and city council, we commit to moving forward as quickly as possible,” Keane said last night. “Given this meeting tonight, we commit to getting together with ITD and CCDC quickly next week so we can move forward. We would be in a position in two weeks.”
Keane emphasized that time was important, as CCDC’s ability to spend money on the project expires in 2025. However, the project still must have a final design mapped out, which can take a number of months, and must be completed in time for administrative tasks to wrap up.
Commissioner Kent Goldthopre said he wanted it back in front of the commission promptly.
“In the words of Larry the Cable Guy… let’s get ‘er done.”