From 1891 to 1928 the cities of Boise and its neighbors shared a rail system which provided convenient and affordable transportation from one town to the next. The rail system was very popular and not only provided citizens transportation from one city to the next and within the city, but was also a means for citizens to access recreational opportunities outside of town. Places a short ride into the country like Pierce Park, located by the Boise River where Plantation Golf Course it today, and Eagle Island, were popular destinations for picnics and boaters.
Unfortunately, the system of rail was destroyed and there is now little evidence of the rail system which was so popular at one time. Areas which used to be a small rural stops along the route have been engulfed in urban development. In Boise, the creation of rural stops such as Collister stimulated development in the area as a result of the convenient access to and from downtown. As growth increased and automobiles took over, stations such as Collister were destroyed, In cases such as Collister, a strip mall with a large surface parking lot took it’s place in order to accommodate the automobile.
Today, as the cities of the Treasure Valley continue to grow, they are trying to cope with the problems associated with transportation planning designed almost exclusively around the personal automobile. In the past few years more and more mid-sized cities have considered developing some form of light rail into their transportation network as a means of increasing rapid transit options for their citizens. This has been a result of a growing emphasis on transit oriented development and the recognition by different jurisdictions that there is a growing need to develop alternatives to automobile transit. Unfortunately for many jurisdictions, it is expensive enough just to keep up with maintaining roads and bridges and thus implementing alternatives such as light rail or developing bike paths are considered supplemental and cost prohibitive.
Like so many other cities, the city of Boise has also been trying to implement plans for light rail. Over the last several years the Mayor of Boise, Dave Bieter has worked hard to bring back a light rail system to Boise. In doing so he faced strong opposition from those who said the cost was too high, the need was not there, or that the route was too small. The City applied for federal grants to help with the cause and, not willing to give up so easily, hired a consultant in 2013 to further review options regarding light rail.
For Boise the opportunity to bring back light rail might finally be a reality. After several years of work by its planners and consultants to develop a plan for a transportation hub a private developer has decided to build it. Utah based Gardner Company announced that it was planning to build an underground transportation hub as a part of a redevelopment/condo project in downtown Boise. Although current plans focus on buses, rail is considered a possibility in the future. According to the Valley Regional Transit website “The multimodal center will accommodate future growth of the ValleyRide system and changing trends of new generations, which may include additional bus lines, bus rapid transit, and rail service.” If the transportation hub can provide a base for rail to start, then Boise may be able to extend rail throughout the city.
Such development may be a great boon for the city and bring new opportunities for its citizens. Often, the costs of breaking ground and the initial implementation is the most expensive part but once the rail has been started extending the track is relatively more affordable. If Boise is able to establish a rail network it will make rail all the more appealing to its neighboring cities since, in some cases, establishing just a few miles of track could connect the center of one nearby town to the rail lines of the largest city in the area. For example, if Boise lays track all the way from downtown Boise along state street to the edge of town, the city of Eagle could build just a few miles of rail to connect its downtown to downtown Boise 8 miles away.
Currently the transportation hub is only in the application process so speculating that the entire Treasure Valley will one day be connected by rail, as it was in the past, is indeed nothing more than speculation. But when one examines the historical past and the success of the interurban loop which once served the citizens of the valley and brought an economic boon to the numerous small communities along the rail lines, it is easy to see the potential for future success.