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For the week of February 14 through 20, 2001

`Move people, not carsí

Otak study suggests transportation options

"You guys live in a really cool mountain town, but your highway has become a really urban experience."

Roger Millar, transportation planner

Express Staff Writer

After six weeks of studying how Wood River Valley residents get from one place to another, Roger Millar asks the community to look two, five, ten years into the future and consider:

Roger Millar. Express photo by David Seelig

"Is [public] transit a social service for people who have no other choice or a legitimate and, thus, larger part of the transportation system that everybody in the county uses?"

The answer to that question is of course up to county residents. But Millar, a transportation planning consultant with the Carbondale, Colo.-based Otak planning firm, offered 73 pages of research and suggestions Wednesday night that might help residents decide.

A Blaine County ad hoc committee commissioned the Otak study with an $80,000 Idaho Transportation Department grant.

"You guys live in a really cool mountain town, but your highway has become a really urban experience," Millar told about 40 residents, mostly elected officials and government staff, at the beginning of his slide show presentation in the Wood River Middle School.

In the past, people came here, skied and went home, he said, "but now, they come here, ski and buy a house."

"What youíve got here is a tourist economy thatís become a growth economy."

With the subsequent inflation of real estate prices, and the shortage of affordable housing, Ketchum now imports 1,800 workers each day, which creates a total yearly demand for public transit of 110,000 passengers, Millar said.

Thatís not enough to support a light-rail system, yet, but it could support bus service between Bellevue and the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, at the very least for special events, Millar said.

Right now, the countyís only public transportation, KART, serves areas within Ketchum and Sun Valley only.

It is Millarís informed opinion that counties like Blaine can never build themselves out of congestion as long as they continue to focus on moving cars rather than moving people.

One of the most important steps to improving transportation in general, his "Blaine County Public Transportation Feasibility Study" recommends, is halting the proliferation of cars here, "because we want the people, we just donít want the impact the cars would cause."

That might sound like a tall order, but itís what Aspen did in 1994. And, he gives an "incremental approach" to how residents in Blaine County can do it. The approach divides "operations" changes, "capital improvements" and "finance strategies" into short-, mid- and long-term goals.

Some things that can happen within two years include public education and promotional campaigns to raise public awareness of transportation issues.

That could include, for example, distributing brochures that inform people about the advantages of riding a bus over driving a carógenerally, an annual bus pass costs from $100 to $200, but commuting by car for a year costs $7,500.

It could include a banner on the side of Ketchumís existing city KART buses that reads, "Thanks for taking this bus and keeping the air clean."

Other recommended short-term goals include special events bus service connecting Bellevue, Hailey and the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and enhancing the existing Wood River Rideshare program and KART.

Blaine County planners should also coordinate with the ITD to develop peak-hour high occupancy vehicle lanes on Highway 75 near East Fork Road and Elkhorn Road.

The HOV lanes would allow carpool vehicles to bypass stagnated traffic during rush hour to help "make it worth carpooling." Buses typically use the lanes, too. HOV lanes between Hailey and Ketchum could save carpool vehicles 10 to 15 minutes, Millar said.

A "teen bus" to move teenagers between cities for evening movies and weekend sports events could be made immediately available with existing KART buses, Millar said. A survey that Wood River Middle School and Wood River High School students conducted of their peers showed the idea to be popular.

Mid-term goals assume people in Blaine County want more public transportation and that ITD supports them.

The crux of Millarís two- to five-year goals is promoting enabling legislation for a local-option transit tax that would allow Idaho counties to tax residents for public transportation, and creating a Regional Public Transportation Authority (RTA) to oversee public transportation operations.

Two mid-term goals that would work together would be initiating regularly scheduled peak-hour bus service in the Bellevue to Ketchum-Sun Valley corridor and initiating a transportation management program that would include paid parking in Ketchum and other disincentives to driving a car.

"Thereís an awful lot of parking in Ketchum," Millar said. "If you build a bus system, itís going to be hard to get people to ride," unless Ketchum planners make it hard to park.

A local option tax would help fund mid-term projects such as constructing bus stations and park-and-ride lots, developing further high-occupancy vehicle lanes and identifying and preserving a corridor for a future light-rail system.

Light rail, Millar said, may be feasible in about 20 years, which is about the length of time needed to plan and build one.

Long-term goalsófive years from now or moreómostly include geographically expanding systems already in place.

Itís not yet clear which of these recommendations county planners will follow or just what will happen next.

Beth Callister, who helps run Wood River Rideshare and is a public transportation advocate, is currently working to secure a $90,000 federal transportation planning grant.

If secured, the grant would fund a "transit area plan" to identify potential bus stops, zoning and other transportation planning issues. The grant would also be used to help secure additional funding, she said.


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