GUEST POST BY
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s plan to have streetcars rolling in Downtown Boise by summer 2012 may be receiving some help from Sen. Mike Crapo to push it to the next level if Congress springs for the pork.
Team Dave’s plan is to have the first phase of a downtown streetcar system run a 2.6-mile loop along Main and Idaho streets between 1st and 16th streets. Additional expansion would connect to Boise State and 30th Street. In total, the streetcar plan would cost taxpayers between $40 million and $65 million with up to 50% coming from federal grants.
The remaining 50% would come from a new tax Team Dave is proposing – 30 cents per square foot on property in the area of Downtown. For example, the owner of a 15,000-square-foot building would pay about extra $4,500 a year for 20 years for the streetcar project. The so-called Local Improvement District (LID) needs approval of only a majority or perhaps 60% of PROPERTY OWNERS in the proposed District… most businesses in the area have “triple net leases” which obligate the tenant–not the property owner–to pay any new or increased taxes on top of their rent.
Team Dave’s streetcar plan is flawed for several reasons. Putting in a streetcar system in portions of downtown Boise would be a duplication of service. Currently, Valley Transit provides the same functional service the streetcar program would offer. Buses would not be replaced since the streetcar project would only operate a 2.6 mile loop in downtown Boise.
Secondly, now is not the time for another tax on already tapped out property downtown tenants. Finally, the value for the streetcar system is far from observable. Taxpayers would basically be paying $15 to $25 million per mile for the streetcar project.
When I called Team Dave’s office about “a street car named dumbo” (my little salute to Marlon Brando’s 1951 Film “A Street Car Named Desire”), the staff said that there was no formal research that could be shared about the project. That is, no research or analysis as to the potential feasibility, user desire, or impact of a streetcar service.
Rather than view the Treasure Valley transportation problem as a larger, more holistic issue, Dave is going nostalgia on taxpayers. Dave’s throwing his weight behind a transportation strategy that will provide limited relief to commuters.
Instead, TeamDave should focus on real solutions to the regional Treasure Valley transportation problem – relieving commuters of their near L.A.-type drive to and from work. Put the $40 million to $65 million into a strategy to reduce traffic congestion in and out of Boise during rush hour. Whether it is a train system between Nampa and Boise, or a massive hot air balloon consortium, taxpayer interests would be better served with ANYTHING other than a Rice-A-Roni streetcar system that would serve only small section of downtown Boise.
An expensive novelty item at best.
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