And it was so

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Live long enough and that old saw “all things old are new again” will have more meaning. The six communities of Idaho’s Ada County may be about to step into a time warp and make the “old new again.” It appears political bubbling and boiling just beneath the surface could soon break out with a decision – likely in court – to return control of county roads to cities. For many of the same reasons the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) was created in the first place 40+ years ago. How’s that for irony?

In the ‘70’s, the hot topic was how those six local governments could save taxpayers so much money on road and highway care if they threw all their various road departments into a central unified “highway district.” After all, six highway departments were just “creating lots of duplication.” Just made all the sense in the world!

And it was so.

But, shortly after creation, you could hear whispers of discontent. “We’ve lost control of our streets.” “Our taxes are subsidizing all the others.” “Another level of government we just don’t need.” “Boise’s going to get more money than us.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

And it was so.

I don’t recall a year from creation of ACHD to now that there hasn’t been bitching about something. Though directors of ACHD are elected from districts more or less representative of all six communities – plus the rural areas – there have always been battles about distribution of dollars, cars versus bikes, mass transit versus more roads, who gets what, where the new roads will go, snow removal, where maintenance should be done and how much. And on and on and on. Long ago, ACHD should have hired Ann Landers or “Dear Abby” to keep peace in its multi-governmental “family.”

Case in point. Boise recently installed some new computerized parking meters around town. If a car left a spot with time remaining on the meters, these electronic bandits would “zero out” so the new occupant couldn’t get a break. After an expensive installation, ACHD said Boise didn’t own the parking spaces, had not applied for “permission” and should take ‘em out. Post haste!

And it was so.

With a whole new round of bitching.

Now, with issues of bike lanes, parking, mass transit – what kind and where – whether Boise should build a downtown transit system and an accompanying terminal of some size – all these have candidates and local governments in a war of words. Boise law firms must be salivating on the sidelines as the cities and ACHD edge ever closer to the courtroom.

The old arguments of “cost savings” and “avoiding duplication” are still at play. What’s added now is the fact that Ada County’s two largest communities – Boise and Meridian – have physically grown so close together through urban sprawl that issues of mass transit and local freeways are more important than ever according to new traffic counts. The other locales – Eagle, Kuna, Star and Garden City – are fearing they’re going to be left out because those issues aren’t their issues.

The most contentious subjects in the current ACHD director’s election are mass transit and bike lanes. There are strong supporters. There are strong opponents. Both camps vocal. Both camps firmly planted. Middle ground seems impossible to find. So, the elections have taken on a new and higher level of importance. The winners will have made some pretty solid promises to go one way or the other.

That means the issue of whether the combined district should continue, or be returned to the six communities because of their different needs, is likely to be the central question to be solved before movement on future transportation plans. Which could mean idle hands at ACHD until some answers are found and a direction determined.

Some 40 years ago, ACHD was born out of a desire for everyone to work together and realize better economics. Cooperation and better use of tax dollars. Motherhood and apple pie. Now, a lot of voices are saying there would be more cooperation if each city was allowed to determine local needs and taxes would be saved if not all of them were required to contribute to transportation needs that didn’t affect them. More motherhood. More pie.

“All things old are new again.”

And it was so.

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