City Government

Boise Off Track on Locomotive Move

For starters the GUARDIAN thinks it would be neat to have a historic steam locomotive parked at the Boise Depot. It would also be neat to open the Depot to the public.

That said, we can only hope the info from a reader is not true about the financal plan to move “Big Mike” –the steam engine–from Julia Davis Park to the Depot.
Depot Track.jpg

We would submit it is a gross misuse of $309,000 in Federal Highway funds to move the 86 year old iron horse to the Depot –especially since the public is locked out of the Spanish mission-style landmark. It is owned by Boise Citizens, but closed to the general public and rented only to private parties able to shell out $1,000.

Total cost is estimated to be $323,000 for the move, and Boise City will provide $13,000 “in-kind services” and $14,000 in private donations. It was donations that helped purchase the Depot which we can no longer share with visitors or children thanks to City Policy…can they be trusted now?

There is some sort of meeting scheduled July 12 at the Depot to explain the deal which sounds like a scam at first blush. We think it is fraudulent to use highway funds for moving expenses. The plan is to use a heavy duty tractor trailer to haul the locomotive to the Depot–perhaps the “highway” connection is the fact it will travel on a truck.

We flat miss the significance of moving Big Mike out of Julia Davis Park to coincide with the 100th anniversary. “We are going to celebrate the birthday and remove the steam engine?”

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. There may be a good reason to use highway funds: To repair the roads damaged by a truck hauling umpteen tons of locomotive over city streets.
    I dunno what that locomotive weighs, but I’d bet an Amtrak ticket that it is heavier than loads normally allowed on our pavement.

    Anybody know the weight of the engine, and the legal weights on the streets?

  2. In addition, the Depot is a natural locale for a railroad museum that would be a tourist attraction and bring in revenue.

  3. How’s about they hook Big Mike up to some passenger cars, and start a “light” rail experiment? Big Mike could pull commuters between Caldwell and Boise on weekdays, and on weekends he could make a coal-run to Wyoming, and thus be self-sufficient. (Boise could claim the distinction of having the only coal-fired steam locomotive rail commute line, at least outside of Siberia and Romania and places like that.)

  4. curious george
    Jul 4, 2006, 4:57 pm


    IF Big Mike still worked, it would be an interesting idea to put him back in service. But a number of years ago public funds were used to remove all the hazardous asbestos heat shielding from around the boiler – but the resulting explosion might make for an interesting Fourth of July fireworks display.

    The funds being used to relocate the locomotive engine are from a tiny Federal Highway’s apportionment that all states get. These funds are then distributed to various small projects as Transportation Enhancement grants by the states’ Transportation Departments. Such grants typically fund “fun” (but small) projects – greenbelts, bicycle pathways, pedestrian bridge repairs, new sidewalks, etc. All the little things that typically get cut from bigger projects before construction starts.

    Boise has benefited from these grants before – so has just about every community in the Treasure Valley. There’s actually an “equity” formula used to make sure the money gets spread around fairly and that smaller communities still get some of this money.

    Of course, this is still tax money. It is a small (infinitismally small) portion of the federal Department of Transportation’s annual budget. But it is a way to get more of Idahoans’ federal tax dollars back into their respective communities. And a long-recognized way to fund such small projects. I say, better spent in Idaho than in Boston’s Big Dig.

    But moving Big Mike? I don’t know if a lot of thought went into the idea of moving the locomotive from Julia Davis park (near the 3rd Street entrance off of Myrtle), where a lot of people get to see it, to the Depot, where few people will ever see it.

    Some in Boise government believe the Depot is more appropriate since that’s where trains historically where – right? Wrong, the very area where Big Mike is now located is where the majority of freight trains came into Boise. The whole area between Front & Myrtle was Boise’s main freight yard – ever wonder why so many warehouses were there?

    I can think of a dozen more deserving enhancement projects than moving Big Mike – how about you?

    EDITOR NOTE–Lave it to a GUARDIAN reader to set us straight. We understand what you are saying, but is this project an appropriate use of Federal Highway funds? It sounds like a slush fund…”fun projects?”

  5. Guardian

    What are you talking about here…. Our Ada Commishs have sepent thousands of $$ over a $50.00 fine… ACHD is being sued by the Canal company because they didn’t get ROW worked out….. this is a bargain for us tax payers… we will have something to show for our money

    You need to go back to Memphis and see the King….

  6. This $1000.00 dollars party money that the city gets for renting out the Boise Depot. What do they do with that money? Where does it go?

    Since it is OUR building, you would think we the people at least have the right of knowing what they are doing with the money.

    It appears we don’t have a say in how the building is to be used, do we have any rights here? Never mind, I know that answer…

    EDITOR NOTE–Like the Army Officer in Vietnam explained, “We had to burn the village to save it.” The City has long held the position they have to rent the Depot to pay the cost of maintaining it…but for whom?

  7. Why? Why move Big Mike at all? What is FORCING this?

  8. Boise City and GBAD (the Greater Boise Auditorium District) could just get together and use the Depot as one piece of their expandable Convention Center! 😉

  9. Just heard Councilor Jordan on KBOI-AM670 say she wanted to keep the Depot as a spot for “future rail service”. She did NOT favor a museum. Why put an old steam engine on display in a space needed for busses and commuters? Sounds like they will have to move the thing out of the way in the future.

  10. As stated before if you spend time inside city government you quickly learn that the city wants to have a rail system at any cost and wants to convert the area around the depot into a transit center.

    This means all the homes south of the depot can and would be removed for a “bus exchange area” to accommodate the need to move people from the train to buses.

    The entire Crescent Rim, Peasley, Rose Hill area would be massively effected by this center. But again the City (and County) don’t care. The rail system – IF there is one should go to a large transit center DOWNTOWN so people could walk from there to their giant office buildings – NOT LOAD AND RE-LOAD BUSES!. The idea of the Depot as a transit center shows a total lack of understanding of public transportation and logistics, let alone cost evaluation and ROI.

    The Depot SHOULD be a museum and if trains run the tracks they should simply pass by on their way to Micron and Mt. Home.

    Besides – with all the condos that are to be built downtown everyone will already be living downtown and we will not need to bring them here – right? Maybe Meridian or Nampa will soon realize that as soon as they build a couple of highrise offices (and they would easily fill them), downtown Boise will not be the only act in the valley.

    All of this “future rail service” agenda is being loaded into the COMPASS covertly so Boise and COMPASS can say that the COMPASS study demands it be done.

    Other bias “study data” is being prepared to support the “rail dream” dream – regardless of cost or tax increases or subsidies needed.

    oh yea…So WHY are we moving Big Mike?

  11. curious george
    Jul 5, 2006, 5:31 pm

    I have long held that the Depot is a VERY poor place to establish a light rail transit station, all for the very reasons stated by Inside. Yet just to the east (at the intersection of Protest and Federal Way) is a seven acre vacant parcel that is ideally suited for such a transfer station. Anyone who believes that moving Big Mike will somehow make the Depot more “entertaining” or a more viable transit station – is smoking crack (sorry Team Dave).

    But Inside’s jab at the county is a little off-mark. The initiative to push for light rail in the valley came straight from former Mayor Cole’s administration – nowhere else. And, the 1997 Rail Demonstration Project (where a number of communities brought in a diesle powered light rail car for a two-week run – shuttling back and forth between Meridian and Micron) pretty clearly showed that connections to a local bus service from the Depot was exceedingly difficult.

    The COMPASS Board of Director’s (comprised of 39 elected officials and agency representatives from throughout Ada & Canyon Counties, with the county commissioners having only 6 votes – not even enough to block a super-majority vote if one was ever cast), has agreed to manage an “Alternatives Analysis” for a Treasure Valley Priority Corridor that will examine whether I-84 or the rail corridor could be effectively used for high-capacity transit.

    One option that will be explored is whether the rail corridor land could be purchased in order to build a dedicated bus rapid transit (BRT) road corridor – as opposed to a dedicated diamond lane on I-84. A BRT route can be constructed for a tenth the cost of a light rail system, per mile, and actually carry more people than a light rail system. Get all the cross-county buses off crowded I-84, Fairview, Chinden, and State Street, onto their own thoroughfare – and transit will start operating at vastly improved levels of service.

    Remember, trying to run a high-capacity transit system on local roads, puts all those buses in the same traffic jams that everyone else is stuck in. Even rail lines placed on these roadways will have innumerable at-grade crossings that will slow down everyone, and only increase the hazards of commuting to work. The days of the old intervalley trolley are long gone, such a system would snarl the entire road network today.

    Use transfer stations like the one that should be put at Protest & Federal Way, to get people off the rapid transit system onto the local system. Commuters using a BRT on the old rail corridor could get east & west twice as fast as a driver on the freeway or any of the local roads – and use an improved local service to get directly to work.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    And really, leave Big Mike where it’s at. Use the money to improve (and build) safe commuter bike routes that actually lead somewhere, better pedestrian directional signage downtown, improved alternative vehicle parking downtown, improved downtown streetscaping, better pedestrian connections across the Boise River to Garden City, better home-to-school pedestrian routes for our kids, the list goes on…

  12. Great transportation system analysis, Curious George!

    Did you know that COMPASS now has provisions in its bylaws to use “weighted voting” in which each member organization has voting authority in direct relation to the amount of dues that organization contributes? Here’s a passage from the bylaws:

    “Section 4. Votes Per Voting Director. Three voting alternatives exist. Unless otherwise provided, Alternative A (one vote per Voting Director) shall be used.

    A. One vote per Voting Director:
    Each Voting Director casts one and only one vote.

    B. Weighted Voting:
    Voting Directors from each General and Special Purpose Member cast a number of votes equal to the member agency’s Association membership dues as provided below.

    C. Intra-County Voting:
    Only Voting Directors from within one county cast a vote.”

    COMPASS meeting minutes show that weighted voting has been used. For more information, check out the bylaws on the COMPASS website at:

  13. curious george
    Jul 6, 2006, 12:40 am

    COMPASS does permit a weighted vote, the vote being pro rated by the dues paid by any member agency. The amount of dues is determined, not by any amount the agency chooses to contribute, but by a 75-cent per capita rate for the agency’s representative population.

    In 2005, Ada County and the Ada County Highway District were levied the highest rates at just over $137K each, with Notus coming in last at $259. As far as land use decision making bodies go, Ada County with its $137K still outweighed all the county’s cities put together – their contributions being just under $106K.

    If all Ada County agencies voted in a block, their combined $381K would outweigh the Canyon County agencies $175K.

    Since contributions are based off of population counts, it could be viewed as a curious form of capitalistic democracy. But there is a catch, in that a form of multiple taxation occurs – which could be viewed as a gerrymandering of weighted votes.

    If you are unfortunate enough to live in a city, you are paying quite a few times over for your representation on the COMPASS Board.

    Including highway districts, counties, and cities, there are two other taxing authorities which pay “special membership” dues – Boise & Meridian School Districts. ITD and DEQ, though not taxing authorities in themselves, do pay for special memberships, from their share of the state’s general fund (or gasoline tax).

    So, in reality, an Ada County resident (living within a city) will have paid six times over for representation on the COMPASS Board. For example, a Boise citizen pays for the city, for the county, for the school district, for ACHD, for ITD, and for DEQ. If you’re a student at BSU, add another chunk for BSU’s special membership – another if you ride the Bus (for VRT’s special membership), another if you ever parked in a downtown parking garage (for CCDC’s special membership). What’s that – nine times?

    But then again, that’s just over $2.25 – less than an espresso at Moxie Java. Think of all the power you wield…

  14. Take a look at the COMPASS minutes from March 20 and April 17 of this year. In both cases, the three Ada County Commissioners, three Ada County Highway District Commissioners, two members representing the Association of Canyon County Highway Districts, and the Mayors of Garden City and Star (ten people) outvoted these 18: the Boise Mayor and two City Council members, representatives from the City of Caldwell, Canyon County, the City of Eagle, the City of Kuna, the City of Meridian (2 reps), the City of Middleton, the City of Nampa (2 reps), the City of Parma, BSU, CCDC, DEQ, ITD, and Valley Regional Transit.

    In some cases, the COMPASS dues paid by a lone taxpayer buy power for multiple elected officials who vote against each other. I wouldn’t want them all walking in lockstep, of course, but this situation is a good reminder of the importance of watching to see whose interests our elected officials are really representing.

  15. Jon Q Publique
    Jul 6, 2006, 11:26 pm

    I have to agree with Curious George (and before him Inside Boi) about using the Depot as a light rail station/transfer point. It doesn’t make sense.

    Getting the buses to head north from the Depot should be a real trick. Talk about delay time. On the other hand, it would be a great “neighborhood reinvestment” project.

    Public officials seem adamant about getting a light rail system going. I thought the idea would go away when Brent did, but no such luck. Dave, the Council, and CCDC continue to push the idea. Makes one wonder if Motive Power having a locomotive rebuild/manufacturing facility here in Boise has anything to do with that. Oops, sorry, that’s heavy rail.

    Maybe Guardian readers can contribute to a fund to buy a Lionel or American Flyer train set for the Mayor, the Council, and CCDC in lieu of light rail. Lionel used to have a really nice Birney streetcar.

    Folks I know who have mass transit backgrounds say light rail isn’t feasible for Boise for a long, long time although preserving the corridor is a good idea. The Valley doesn’t have the population density necessary to support light rail.

    These sources tell me that Cleveland and Los Angeles, both with more population and more population density than Boise, are currently developing bus rapid transit (BRT) in lieu of light rail. Salem, Oregon put plans for a light rail system on hold after cost estimates came in at $ 51 million for 2.5 miles and federal monies dried up.

    They also tell me the cost of a new Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU), similar to the one that ran here on a demo basis in 1997, is a mere $ 4 million plus. That’s just capital cost for one unit. A Valley Ride study indicates they would need at least 4 units. Operating costs are extra.

    The Statesman recently reported that the whatever our name is this week bus system is only covering about 10% of its operating cost from fares. I’m told that is an all time low for Boise and that its nearly $ 60 per vehicle hour operating cost is an all time high.

    Valley Ride’s own rail corridor study estimated operating costs for a 30 minute DMU schedule to be slightly more than $ 5,000,000 per year or over $ 500 per vehicle hour – about 10 times the operating cost of the bus system.

    I could not find any ridership or revenue estimates in the study. The study also notes that the Depot is not a good place for a transfer point. Sorry, I mean transportation center.

    My transit sources suggest uttering the words “New Starts” whenever public officials use the words “light rail”. Seems federal funding for new light rail starts is a real moving target. Of course when all else fails, there’s always the good olde “demonstration project.”

    Guardian readers may want to read Mark Glines Reader’s Opinion in the July 1st Statesman. It’s an interesting piece.

    Guardian readers also may wish to visit for alternative views on a range of urban topics including transit.

    Boise needs a light rail system? Don’t think so. It does desperately need some creative out of the box thinking for alternative transportation. Traditional bus and trolley lines don’t cut it in the 21st Century.


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