21 February 2015

Treasure Valley Road Ways: A Sensible Proposal

For all of us who live in the Treasure Valley, especially those of us on the western end of the valley, the condition of our infrastructure is undeniable.  The condition of I-84 between the Franklin exit in Caldwell and the Franklin exit in Nampa is of particular disrepair.  ITD seems to be exceptionally dysfunctional where it concerns the construction going on between the Meridian Road exit on I-84 and the Flying Wye in Boise.  I, like many others, complain about these issues constantly.  Here's the thing... If we are going to complain about it, then where are our solutions to these problems?  Where are our ideas for funding critical road projects?  Well, I have a couple, sensible suggestions ranging from funding to alleviating congestion on I-84 in Ada County.

Funding Infrastructure Projects

Tax burden is of particular concern to a vast majority of Idahoans.  According to a study completed by the Idaho State Tax Commission, Idaho has the 8th lowest tax burden in the nation.  As a native Idahoan, I do not want to see that change.  BUT, funding is needed, regardless.  That is why, for what its worth, I am calling on the Idaho State Legislature to consider instituting a toll way on I-84 between exit 27 in Caldwell and exit 57 in Boise.

Why toll-ways?

If you have ever been to the north eastern US, you'll find that toll-ways are a common occurance. The New Jersey Turnpike, for one, is a well known toll-way on I-95 running from the state line with Delaware to the state line with New York (Technically, the northern portion of the road is I-95 and runs parallel with I-295 much of the way).  This roadway system is well kept.  There are other toll-ways littered up and down the east coast.  Many of them are some of the best kept and nicest roadways in the area.

What does that mean for that 30 mile stretch between Boise and Caldwell?

1. Those who cause wear and tear are the ones paying for the upkeep of the road. Taxpayers do not foot a larger tax burden for upkeep of these roads.  You only pay for it if you use it (regardless of who you are or where your origin is). This has the potential to upset many who use I-84 for their daily commute to Boise or any other cities between Caldwell and Boise but doing this eliminates the need to raise the gas tax on the entire state (state funding for roadways is largely funneled to south west Idaho anyways and might make our fellow Idahoans in other parts of the state happier by re-routing a lot of those funds back into the roadways in their communities). 

2. With the institution of a toll-way, there is a likelihood of seeing a decrease in congestion on the interstate which, in-turn, decreases wear and tear and thus ensuring a better kept roadway.

3. What about other through ways like State highways 55, 44 etc or US 20/26?  Since a majority of traffic through the state goes through I-84 and especially that 30 mile stretch between Caldwell and Boise, funds going towards projects and upkeep are freed up for use on other roads.  It may also be worth while to consider instituting toll-ways through every large(er) population center along the I-84 corridor from Oregon to Utah as well as areas on I-15 and I-80.

4.  We're talking about politicians here...  Funds are always improperly allocated.  This is probably the greatest truth we as Americans know about our political system.  In our own state, there is one great exception, PERSI.  State law prohibits legislators from tapping into PERSI and taking its funding away.  State legislators can be imbued with the same resolve.  Funds for tollways can only come from the funds collected on the same toll-way.  Make it law and those roadways have a permanent funding source.

5. Yeah, but it's going to cost a lot to implement before it starts to pay off.  Well, yeah, duh.  Sometimes it takes a few years to start to see the pay off on a positive change, but make no mistake, valley residents would see a massive, positive, change to their roadways.

6.  But I'll have to stop and pay every time I decide to use the interstate.  That is false.  All toll-roads make available scanners placed in vehicles that allow for a per use charge to be automatically deducted from an account.  Many states call this an "EZ-Pass".  So, if you use the interstate frequently, you get one of these passes and you don't deal with the long line of vehicles waiting to pay their toll.  If you seldom use the interstate, you pay manually as you use it.

The fact is that many who are native to Idaho will not like to see portions of their interstate system turn into toll roads.  But the reality remains that this would mean that there is an increase in revenue for our crumbling infrastructure without a massive tax hike of $2/ day (like Compass Idaho suggests).

Traffic Congestion

Anyone who travels the east bound through Ada county in the mornings and west bound in the afternoons over the last year knows A LOT about headache, frustration and irritation regarding the idiotic implementation of the changes in traffic patterns between Meridian Road and the Flying Wye in Boise.  I have often asked myself who in the world is so incompetent that they would choke the area with the most traffic congestion in the valley and double, triple or quadruple commute times within the valley all because of a lack of foresight.  One might say "Well, it's got to get done!  Best to just rip the band-aide off and be done with it."  To that person I say, you're a fool.  There are ALWAYS better ways.  Permanent ways that can be used to alleviate traffic congestion on a permanent basis... not just through construction.

Hawaii has a rather large problem with traffic congestion on the island that is it's population center, Oahu.  Oahu has one interstate-like roadway system that could be considered the primary throughway system on that island, the H-1.  Heavy traffic flows, in the mornings, from the western side of the southern part of the island into Honolulu.  In the evenings, that traffic flows back from Honolulu to the western part of the island.  In order to alleviate congestion, they use something called a "zipper lane".  This zipper lane is a moveable barrier that opened up for east bound traffic in the mornings and west bound traffic in the afternoons.  The barrier closes a lane for light traffic heading in the opposite direction of heavy traffic, depending on the time of day, and opens an additional lane for heaving traffic.  So a four lane highway becomes a five lane highway.  Additionally, that extra lane of traffic becomes a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane.  Meaning, vehicles carrying 2 or more passengers or motor cycles are the only vehicles permitted to utilize that lane.  Essentially an express lane.  HOV lanes also have a side effect that can aid in the cost of upkeep on roadways; they help reduce wear and tear on highways.

For the valley's current situation, ITD could actually open an additional lane of traffic and prevent a massive bottle neck that has traffic getting backed up to the 10 Mile overpass in the mornings and open up a lane of traffic to alleviate pressure at the Flying Wye in the afternoons.

These are sensible solutions to a growing problem in the Treasure Valley.  It's easy to see how instituting these things would have a positive long reaching effect on our infrastructure and quality of life here in the treasure valley.  I'm interested to hear other's thoughts.  Be constructive; if you don't like these ideas, propose an idea that you think is better, otherwise don't bother... You're just a part of the problem.  Be a part of the solution and present your ideas.  Maybe we can make the Legislature listen.