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Road Weary

ACHD, political leaders told to shape up

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It's time for government agencies in Ada County to start acting like grown-ups instead of squabbling siblings—at least, that's the gist of what the panel from the Urban Land Institute told the public June 22.

Nine volunteers from the ULI spent a week in Ada County looking at how the Ada County Highway District works within the larger community, and how it can better fulfill its mission. After more than 100 interviews with elected officials, business owners and citizens, as well as extensive tours of the county, the panel found that ACHD remains the best way to tackle valley roadways.

But all cities and agencies within the area need to work together to create a cohesive plan for the valley or risk losing the very qualities that make the area special.

The panel called for leaders of cities and other government agencies to put old battles aside and stop petty squabbling over jurisdiction, development rights and personal ego battles.

"It's long-standing," said panel director Charles Long. "Some people are holding onto wars that started in the 1970s."

Janet Taylor, panel member and mayor of Salem, Ore., called on elected officials to change the status quo. "You're competing with your neighbors and your friends," she said. "You're eroding your taxpayer support, and that can turn around and bite you. The current structure just isn't working."

During its week in Boise, the panel reported finding that the public has an overwhelmingly negative view of ACHD.

Panel members stressed the need for ACHD to improve its public image by being more responsive to the needs of the public. The agency's lack of timely response to local needs gives the perception that it is more concerned with the needs of developers than those of the public.

The panel also chastised city governments for not following their own comprehensive land-use plans by approving projects that place undue stress on countywide infrastructure.

Panelists pointed to the fact that there seems to be little attention paid to an overall vision for the Treasure Valley. In fact, more than 90 percent of surveys said growth across the valley is poorly planned.

The panel suggested the creation of an alliance made up of all six cities in the county, Ada County and ACHD to create binding agreements between municipalities. As part of the plan, the cities in the alliance would have to create comprehensive land-use plans that met a common vision for the future of the area. If cities failed to meet the criteria set out in their own plans, the group would have to ability to penalize the offending agency in some way until it fell into line.

It also stressed the need to find additional funding for ACHD and advocated increased impact fees, expanding car registration fees (now set to expire in 2010), getting a portion of state sales tax revenue and increasing the gas tax.

The panel warned that if valley leaders don't find a way to work together, the result may be uncontrolled sprawl, poor air quality, increased traffic congestion and loss of open space, including the farmland, ranches and foothills that help create the character of the valley.

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