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Gardner Company executive Tommy Ahlquist hopes the downtown transit center his company is building in Boise will create momentum for more public transportation across the Treasure Valley.

Ahlquist is chief operating officer of the Gardner Company, which is in charge of a large downtown project called City Center Plaza, a two-building area with space for offices, retail shops and more. The transit center will be part of that space, and construction is scheduled to begin in July. Ahlquist said it should finish by June 2016. Valley Regional Transit will use the underground space for eight buses, and the hope is to increase ridership and build momentum for public transit.

“It’s designed to be the downtown site for pick-ups and drop-offs,” Ahlquist said.

He hopes the hub will have an effect on public perception of taking the bus, and increase routes with ridership. Ahlquist said a recent United Way community assessment showed public transportation is one of the highest needs.

“There’s no doubt we need public transportation desperately in the Valley all over the place,” he said. “... The question is, how does it get funded?”

Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President Alex LaBeau said he and his staff are constantly in contact with legislators on the issue of transportation, but not so much on the subject of buses and trains. Their concerns fall more along the lines of roads and bridges.

“There are a couple of areas when it comes to transportation issues that we certainly are concerned about,” LaBeau said. “There are bridges that are in need of reconditioning, and that’s certainly a significant concern when you can’t move enough in single loads. You have to continue to upgrade your transportation system in order to move commerce.”

Ahlquist said he is aware there isn’t a lot of commitment or investment in public transit at the moment, because it is focused on LaBeau’s priorities of roads and bridges. The solution will involve the government making it a priority and establishing a strategic plan, but it will also need investment from the private sector, Ahlquist said.

“The hard thing for legislators is they’ll say ‘That’s just an Ada County problem,’” Ahlquist said, “and a lot of legislators don’t have their focus on what happens here. That’s the tricky part, is where does this leadership come from and how do we go forward?”

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