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.
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 Ada 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
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 pollution 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
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
- 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