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Here's what the Treasure Valley can learn about light rails from Portland and Salt Lake City

Mass transportation systems took other cities years and hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and that might not be any different in the Treasure Valley.

Devin Ramey

Utah Transit Authority

Published: 1:57 PM MDT August 11, 2019
Updated: 7:33 PM MDT August 11, 2019

It has been a decade since either the City of Boise or COMPASS, the planning association of southwest Idaho, started making plans to build some form of mass transportation in the Treasure Valley.

In the years since, the Treasure Valley's population has exploded and residents have made it clear at Boise City Council meetings that many of them want better public transportation in the region as the struggling bus system isn't keeping up with growth.

The City of Boise has discussed the possibility of building a streetcar or trolley in downtown Boise for over a decade now. In 2009, the city proposed a $60 million new trolley system that would connect downtown Boise and the Boise State University campus. In order to help pay for the project, the city applied for $40 million in federal grants. The city's seven applications all lost.

Since the city first announced a possible trolley system, the city has received federal funding to study transit options in 2012 and held public hearings on possible routes in 2014. In the last five years, few updates on the project have been revealed.

The City of Boise did reveal a possible route of the proposed circulator, connecting downtown Boise and the Boise State University campus. The route was limited to operating down 9th Street and Capitol Boulevard, and east and west along Idaho and Main streets

This map shows the T-shaped route for the proposed downtown Boise circulator.

There aren't any new updates on the city's circulator proposal, according to City of Boise spokesperson Mike Journee. Journee said that they're only gathering information needed to apply for federal funding for the project and are in the early preliminary stages of the proposal. 

The latest plans for a Treasure Valley-wide mass transit system was a 2009 COMPASS study that analyzed possible routes and corridors for different forms of mass transit.

However, neither Boise, Meridian, Nampa nor Caldwell have any currents plans to build a commuter rail through Ada and Canyon counties, according to each cities' spokesperson.

Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling said there is a need for more transit to be built but said the form of a new mass transit still needs to be decided.

"I think it has to be a collaborative effort and so it's all landing on that same decision - you've got to come to a consensus as a community on what that mode of transportation is," she said.

Without new plans for mass transit systems in the Treasure Valley, residents may not have a clear picture of how long such a project may take or how much it might cost taxpayers. The Treasure Valley has also grown significantly in just the past few years, which is prolonging travel times as main roadways are seeing more drivers than ever.

KTVB set out to learn what it could take to build a Treasure Valley-wide light rail system. To do this, we analyzed the creation of light rail systems in the Portland and Salt Lake City metro areas. Both systems extend outside city limits, connecting their whole metro areas, which could be similar to a Treasure Valley-wide rail system.

The El Paso Streetcar system was also analyzed since the project is limited to downtown El Paso, Texas, much like Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's circulator proposal.

Scroll down to see what transit leaders in Portland, Salt Lake City, and El Paso said about their systems and what Treasure Valley residents could expect.

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