MERIDIAN — A planned Meridian bus route will connect people to major employers, retail centers and apartments.
Starting early 2021, Valley Regional Transit plans to provide east-west bus service from Kleiner Park near The Village at Meridian to the Ten Mile Road interchange. VRT officials believe the route has potential to connect at least 7,000 people to just as many jobs.
Conceptual designs for the route show it stopping in areas along Franklin Road and Idaho Avenue, including Blue Cross of Idaho, the Cherry Lane library branch and the St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center, although the specific route and stops have not been nailed down. Caleb Hood, Meridian planning division manager, said the general route of the bus will residential and business areas.
VRT anticipates having bus service connect east from Kleiner Park to downtown Boise and intercounty services to Canyon County in the future, said Stephen Hunt, principal planner for VRT. Discussions about those connections are scheduled to take place into the spring, he said.
At this point, Hunt said VRT plans to offer the bus service along the Meridian route every 30 minutes during peak times: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. That service is estimated to cost $310,000 annually. If the route were offered throughout, the day it would cost $770,000. VRT officials estimate the route could generate $25,000 to $62,000, which could lower the city’s cost burden.
The city of Meridian set aside $419,000 to pay for bus stops, operational costs and buses in this year’s budget, according to Hood. Hunt said roughly $350,000 will be used for bus stops and other bus infrastructure, and the rest will be set aside for the bus’ operational costs in the future. The leftover money, $71,000, would pay for about three months of service, he said.
The Meridian route will be operated by two electric buses. VRT fare prices vary depending on the length of the trip. An adult single-ride local pass costs $1.50. A local 31-day pass costs $42.
The city has not committed to pay for the route after that money is used up. That, Hood said, will be a discussion Meridian City Council will have to have before approving the fiscal year 2021 budget.
Hunt said if the city of Meridian decides not to continue to pay for the route in the future, VRT won’t be able to offer it. When asked if he was concerned that the city was spending $350,000 on bus infrastructure that might not be used, Hood said, “Absolutely.”
“Unfortunately that is just the nature of the beast,” he said.
While Hunt originally estimated the route would connect 7,000 people to 7,000 jobs, Hunt said the number could be higher than that now. That statistic comes from the American Community Survey Data, from the U.S. Census. As new developments spring up, Hunt said both the number of people and the number of jobs this route could connect may have increased.
As it is, VRT has two routes with stops in Meridian — Route 40 Nampa Meridian Express and Route 42 Happy Day Transit Center/Towne Square Mall, according to spokesman Mark Carnopis; both are intercounty routes. This new route will be the first one with only Meridian stops.
Carnopis said the success of the city’s transportation service for seniors and disabled residents, Harvest Transit, was one indicator of the need for public transportation in Meridian. From fiscal year 2017 to 2019, the number of riders using the service increased from 339 to 824, a 243% increase, he said.
GROWTH IN DOWNTOWN, TEN MILE AREA
While specifics of the route are still up in the air, Leslie Pedrosa, operations director for VRT, said it will run through downtown Meridian.
“Where in downtown we haven’t decided yet,” said Pedrosa.
Meridian and its urban renewal agency, the Meridian Development Corporation, or MDC, have both worked to revitalize the city’s downtown over the past couple of years.
In August 2018, Meridian City Council and MDC approved two four-story buildings in downtown. The buildings will have residential units and commercial tenants. Meridian is also seeking proposals from developers for mixed-use projects on public land that would include a new community center and enhance “the character and economic vitality of downtown Meridian,” according to a request for proposals. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 4.
“With the new residential and office/retail developments coming online in downtown Meridian in 2020 and 2021, connecting people and jobs, while reducing transportation impacts, is important to the community,” said Ashley Squyres, administrator for the urban renewal district, over email.
VRT approached MDC about partnering on the project earlier this summer, Squyres said. MDC has set aside $65,000 in its fiscal year 2020 budget to pay for construction of bus shelters and signage in downtown Meridian, she said. MDC still needs to approve a final agreement with VRT before the deal is finalized.
Ten Mile Crossing, on the northeast corner of the Ten Mile Road interchange, has also grown significantly over the past couple of years. In July, officials broke ground on a new Saltzer Health medical complex that will include one of Idaho’s first 24/7 urgent care clinics. The week before, officials broke ground on the second AmeriBen building.
Squyres said that by making public transportation more accessible, she hopes “the community will take advantage of it or that it will inspire them to consider other modes of transportation.”
“We have seen there is a need for alternative transportation options in our community," she said, "and this is an important step toward meeting that need."