Officials debate public transportation
State proceeding with
plan to fund transit systems
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
A contingent of state and local officials
announced last week that they are proceeding with a plan to improve public
transportation in the Wood River Valley and other parts of Idaho.
The announcement came Wednesday, Dec. 3,
at Sun Valley City Hall during a meeting of the Idaho Task Force on Public
Transportation. The Task Force is a group charged with developing a
comprehensive report on how the state could fund new public transportation
The group was established in 2002 by
several public-service organizations, including the Association of Idaho Cities,
Idaho Association of Counties and Idaho Association of Highway Districts.
The Task Force is conducting meetings
throughout the state to gather information on what types of public transit
various urban and suburban communities need and how potential projects could be
The statewide meetings are part of a
larger initiative by the Task Force to present a report to state legislators
that could foster new laws to fund public transportation in the state. The Task
Force expects to present the completed report next January.
Currently, Idaho is one of only three
states in the nation that do not have dedicated public transportation funding.
What are funding options?
Mark Carnopis, a representative of
Meridian-based Valley Ride, who is working on the report, told a crowd filled
with public officials that the Task Force is currently considering four
different sources that could eventually fund specific public transit projects.
The group might advocate a gasoline tax, an increase in vehicle registration
fees, an annual property tax on motor vehicles, or the use of local option
taxes, Carnopis said.
Carnopis noted that it will likely be
difficult to gain support in the Legislature for any new taxes or fee increases
designed to support public transportation programs. "None of them will be easy,"
he said, noting that implementation of a gas tax would require a constitutional
Indeed, State Rep. Wendy Jaquet,
D-Ketchum, a member of the District 4 Task Force subcommittee, said her previous
attempts to initiate legislation to fund public transportation in the Wood River
Valley did not gain adequate support from her peers.
Local officials debate
During a 90-minute discussion of the Wood
River Valley’s transportation and funding needs, numerous elected officials
showed support for creation of a state or local funding source that could
support new transit projects.
Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael
noted that a 2000 study of transportation needs in the county determined that an
annual sum of $795,000 would be needed to fund a frequent, full-service bus
system through the Wood River Valley.
The Peak Bus commuter bus—which is funded
by county tax revenues, state funds and donations from cities and private
businesses—currently costs approximately $150,000 annually to operate, Michael
Michael said she believes a new local
option tax would be the "way to go" to fund new transit projects.
Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant said she would
support a valley-wide bus system that is timely, convenient and affordable for
commuters. She noted that use of a local option tax would also be her "preferred
choice" to fund transportation programs.
Jaquet said the state could possibly pass
legislation that would provide for counties to collect local option taxes to pay
for transportation projects.
Some oppose new LOT
However, not all at the meeting showed
support for a new local option tax.
Jeff Davis, general manager of Sturtevants
sporting goods store in Ketchum, said store owner Rob Santa is concerned that
any increase in Ketchum‘s local option taxes could hurt small businesses. "He’s
afraid it’s going to put us out of business eventually," Davis said.
Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon said voters might
eventually choose not to renew approval for local option taxes if government
officials sought to raise them too high for the general public’s liking. "We
could lose the goose that laid the golden egg," Simon said.
State Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said
he would be supportive of a broad piece of legislation that allowed several
options for communities to pursue improvements to their transportation systems.
"I just think it’s better to have a broader basket to look at."
Can KART be expanded?
Michael said she believes it would be
greatly beneficial for Blaine County residents if the Peak Bus and the Ketchum
Area Rapid Transit bus systems were unified into one valley-wide system.
Terry Crawford, manager of KART, said he
is not altogether opposed to expanding the Ketchum and Sun Valley bus service,
but would certainly be unable to do so without additional funding.