Wednesday, October 1, 2014

County looks at transportation future

Changes will amend 1995 comprehensive plan

Express Staff Writer

    Blaine County is nearing completion of a draft on the transportation chapter for an updated comprehensive plan.
    The plan guides land-use decisions and is required by Idaho code. It was originally drafted in 1989 and last comprehensively updated in 1995. A revised version is expected to be completed by the end of 2015 and will require approval by the county commissioners.
    The plan will consist of 10 chapters on subjects that will include housing, recreation, agriculture and natural resources.
    Last summer, the county commissioners appointed seven people to a steering committee to direct the process. Planning and Zoning Commissioner Dick Fosbury was appointed chair. The steering committee and county planning staff recruited volunteer teams to work on the transportation, housing and recreation components of the plans. Since June, consultant Lisa Horowitz has been guiding the teams on writing each of those chapters.
    A draft of the transportation portion, titled “Mobility,” was presented by planning staff to the P&Z on Thursday.
    The chapter addresses motor vehicles, air travel and bicycles, and sets out a list of “desired outcomes” for each mode of transportation. It states that the desired outcome generally is “an interconnected, balanced and integrated multi-modal transportation system.” The section repeatedly emphasizes a need to find and promote alternatives to single-occupancy-vehicle travel.
    Other desired outcomes are:
- Preservation of transportation infrastructure by adequately funding maintenance and improvements.
- Transportation solutions that reduce vehicle-wildlife collisions.
- Expansion of public transportation services, including more park-and-ride lots.
- More air-service connections with Sun Valley.
- Safe corridors for pedestrians and bicyclists.
    Sarah Michael, a former county commissioner and current member of the Mobility chapter subcommittee, expressed some criticism of the draft chapter. Michael said she was gone for two months this summer and did not fully participate in the draft.
    She said the chapter is not true to its stated vision—that “Blaine County is a pedestrian, transit and bicycle-friendly community … ‘moving people and not just cars.’”
    “The chapter begins with this promising vision and then spends the next five pages on highways and roads,” Michael wrote in a letter to the P&Z. “This sends a message to the reader that Blaine County’s priority is paving more lanes, making sure that single-occupancy vehicles are accommodated. These five pages, in my opinion, do not reflect the policy priorities outlined on pages 7 through 9, and should be shortened and refocused.”
    The P&Z took no action on the draft chapter and continued the matter to an as-yet-undetermined date.
    County Planner Kathy Grotto said drafts of the housing and recreation portions of the updated plan should be ready by the end of this month.
    Since mid-July, the county has had an online survey available to gauge public opinion on the relative importance of various land-use policies and outcomes. Grotto said 628 responses have been received so far. She said the county’s goal is to obtain 1,000 responses, which would represent 6 percent of the county’s permanent population over 15 years old. She said the survey will be available on the county’s website (“Moving 5B Forward”) at least until mid-October and possibly into November.

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