ACHD Marks Four Decades of Service
District's innovations keep traffic moving, provides mobility options for all

An innovation born of frustration, the Ada County Highway District continues to provide forward-thinking service with streets that move traffic while serving pedestrians and cyclists, pavement that is rated as some of the best in the Pacific Northwest and one of the nation’s first and best alternative transportation programs.

Forty-five years ago, ACHD began to serve Ada County after voters established the new road agency to deal with the rampant potholes and to provide better service at a lower cost to taxpayers. After the election in May 1971, all local road functions migrated from the cities and Ada County to the new agency, which began to operate in January 1972.
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Today, county residents continue to reap the benefits of that change – a fact recognized by the Urban Land Institute, or ULI, which sent a panel to study the District a few years ago.

"The panel's sense is that the county – if not the valley or the region as a whole – is lucky to have a unique countywide entity to build, operate, and maintain the road system," panel members concluded.

Because of its countywide reach, ACHD has been able to time traffic signals as a coordinated system, using a central Traffic Management Center to reduce delays for motorists and place the county on par with Salt Lake City and other large metropolitan areas. In recent years, timing programs in downtown Boise and Meridian have saved an estimated 364,000 gallons of gasoline while reducing motorist delays by up to 36 percent.

At the same time, the District’s broad perspective has allowed it to do big-picture planning, bringing the growth plans of the cities together with a road, bridge and intersection plan to create a first-ever, unified blueprint for the county’s future. Part of that perspective includes a “Complete Streets” approach that has resulted in dozens of pedestrian and Safe Route to School projects and 213 miles of bike lanes, along with bicycle-specific road signage and other features. The League of American Bicyclists in 2004 proclaimed AdaSafe Routes to School County a “Bicycle Friendly Community” – the first time an entire county received the distinction, largely on the efforts of ACHD.

“Once again, accept our congratulations on your tremendous efforts to create a truly Bicycle Friendly Community,” wrote Bill Nesper, director of the League’s Bicycle Friendly America Project, in fall 2010, when the status was reconfirmed.

Another ACHD innovation is the Commuteride program – the first vanpool of its like, which began service in 1977. Unlike other vanpool programs, which generally transported a group of people to a single place (usually a large employer), Commuteride was unique in that it took passengers to multiple destinations in the same general area. The added flexibility made the service popular with riders going to downtown Boise and other locations.

Commuteride today serves 900 people who share the commute to and from work on 94 vans. The program draws riders from as far as Malheur, Oregon to Elmore County. In 2011, an estimated 13.8 million miles were saved, which reduces air polluCycliststion and traffic congestion on area roads.

Entering its fifth decade, ACHD continues to focus on its original mission – keeping up the county’s $3 billion, local road network. A pavement maintenance program focusing on preservation and preventative maintenance keeps the county’s asphalt as some of the most highly rated across the West. As of December, 87 percent of ACHD’s roads are judged to be in good or excellent condition – a fact noted by the ULI and others.

“The public generally views ACHD as an agency that does a good job of operating and maintaining the existing road system in the county and recognizes that having a regional entity build and maintain the road system for all local jurisdictions creates economies of scale," the ULI study panel concluded.

Some of the other high points in ACHD's history include:

  • Building the Connector from 23rd Street to Broadway
  • Building the Veterans Memorial Parkway Bridge
  • Construction of the East and West ParkCenter Bridges
  • Curtis Road Extension -- completed in the late 1990s after decades of pre-ACHD delays and misfires
  • Extension of Ustick Road
  • Construction of the Maple Grove Road and Five Mile Road extensions
  • Construction of the Locust Grove Overpass -- a joint project with the Idaho Transportation Department and the City of Meridian

Apart from ACHD's own major projects, the District has partnered with developers to build needed public improvements ahead of schedule. These partnerships have benefited the public because the improvements are made earlier and often at a lower cost and the private sector is repaid by revenues that would otherwise be paid to ACHD in the future. The developers benefit because the needed public improvements are done in advance of ACHD's schedule, which often allows the projects (business parks, shopping centers, etc.) to move forward.

Since 1999, there have been 34 major ACHD-developer partnerships, totaling more than $25 million in new roads, sidewalks and intersections, among other improvements. Some of the notable partnerships include:

  • The improved intersection at Eagle Road and Pine Avenue
  • The expanded intersection at Chinden Boulevard and Linder Road
  • The expanded intersection at Eagle and Ustick roads
  • The expanded intersections at McMillan/Linder, McMillan/Meridian and McMillan/Ten Mile
  • The extension of Pine Avenue from Eagle Road to Locust Grove Road
  • The expansion of Overland Road from Linder to Ten Mile
  • The improvement of Cartwright Road from Dry Creek Road to Piece Park Lane