Boise used to have a frontier, where farms and cattle ranches separated the capital city from agricultural hubs like Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell.
Today, housing developments and burgeoning downtowns have spread across most of the vast land parcels that constituted these cities' borderlands, and the Treasure Valley has become a nearly contiguous population center with tens of thousands of commuters filling the freeways to reach their places of work.
This year, Meridian overtook Nampa as Idaho's second-most-populous city—figures from the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho put Meridian's 2014 population at 85,240, compared to Nampa's 84,840. According to the U.S. Census, Meridian grew 11 percent between 2012-2013, making it the 10th-fastest growing city in the United States.
That trend is expected to continue—moving the Treasure Valley's population growth further westward every year, taking with it the valley's employment base.
As commute times increase and residents flock to western Ada County, it seems clear that the Treasure Valley's center of gravity is shifting. COMPASS has pinpointed exactly where the locus of the valley's population sits: the intersection of 10 Mile and Pine roads, in Meridian.
In 2000, that point was nearly a mile to the east, at Pine Road and Main Street in Meridian, but Meridian's population has grown nearly 80 percent since then. Meanwhile, in 2006, jobs in the valley were centered on Cloverdale Road. Today, that point lies east of Eagle Road near where it crosses East Franklin Road—zeroed in, appropriately, on Commercial Street.
The distance between those two points—the fulcrums of employment and population—is 2.8 miles; and, while it's an abstract way of looking at jobs and residents, it helps illustrate larger trends. For instance, the average commute time in the Treasure Valley is 18 minutes. But as Meridian and Nampa continue to develop, and the valley's economic center moves, commutes will lengthen.
"[Those points are] spreading farther and farther apart, which means people are driving further and further to get to work," said COMPASS Principal Planner Carl Miller.