The Little Dig

City councilor hopes to tunnel under Myrtle and Front


When he first got elected to the Boise City Council, Alan Shealy met with Mayor Dave Bieter, also new to office. As they talked about strategy, ideas and concepts, Shealy had a whopper for Bieter: Let's bury Myrtle and Front streets.

Shealy's notion was to tunnel under the existing streets, which now flood Boise's core with cars at all hours, send the cars underground, and use the real estate for something else. It was, Shealy acknowledges, a big idea at the time.

Now, Shealy is back at it. He raised the idea again at last week's meeting of the City Council.

"It's just enormously exciting to me," Shealy said.

The idea came about, Shealy said, because he was tired of the way Myrtle and Front pour traffic into Boise's downtown, impeding pedestrian traffic and making development tricky.

"It's obscene to have two congested arteries cleaving the most vital part of downtown," Shealy said.

Although it may have begun that way, Shealy's idea has progressed beyond the restaurant-napkin phase. His thought so far, rendered in a simple computer map: Take Front Street, and ramp it underground at 3rd Street. Ramp it back up to the Connector at 13th Street.

For Myrtle, Shealy envisions dropping it underground at 10th Street, and ramping it back up at 5th Street."It is, I believe, an enormously salutory idea," Shealy said. "It will mean huge benefits for the downtown." Instead of car-oriented asphalt, Shealy envisions the city having the option to turn the street surfaces into commercial real estate, walking corridors, or other uses.

"It's an idea that is certainly going to be costly, but the benefits far outweigh that," Shealy said.

On the cost question, he'll get no argument from other officials.

"We're not talking millions here. We're talking billions," said Craig Quintana, a spokesman for the Ada County Highway District. But because Myrtle and Front streets are essentially extensions of the Connector, Quintana said, the matter would be more of a city-state issue than a city-county question, something that gives Quintana comfort.

In the realm of large city road projects, one monster looms largest: Boston's "Big Dig," the $15 billion tunnel project that is known as the most expensive road project in American history. Cost overruns and allegations of mismanagement, along with major technical issues--the brand-new tunnel seems to be leaking profusely, and one woman was killed last summer by falling concrete--have prompted Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney to take formal control of the city project.

Shealy is keenly aware that the Big Dig is the first thing that might spring to mind when people hear about his proposal.

"This," Shealy said, "would be 'the little dig.'"