Traffic officials agree that Eagle Road is one of the most congested roads in the Treasure Valley. The road serves as a major north-south corridor, while bordering some of Meridian’s most popular commercial businesses, like The Village at Meridian.
In 2018, the total number of trips on Eagle Road just north of Interstate 84 was more than 64,000 per day, according to Ada County Highway District. By 2040, officials project an increase of 14,000 vehicles a day, according to Amy Luft, spokeswoman for the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho.
That extra traffic could lead to 10 more minutes of driving time from St. Luke’s Meridian to the city of Eagle at peak hour.
Without traffic, driving from I-84 to the city of Eagle will take someone 7 minutes; it takes 20 minutes during peak hour. COMPASS officials estimate that same trip will increase to 30 minutes during peak hour by 2040.
Officials are working to find ways to make driving on the road more efficient, like using new technology at intersections to help cars move through the corridor faster and encouraging more people to use alternative modes of transportation, like public transit, biking and rideshares.
At the same time, growth continues on the corridor, with a large office park underway on Eagle Road just south of the interstate and another phase of The Village at Meridian in the works for later this summer.
CONGESTION ON EAGLE ROAD
Five of the top 10 most congested roadway segments in the Treasure Valley are on Eagle Road, according to a report by COMPASS published in February.
“You’ve got to understand how Eagle Road serves our area,” said Hunter Mulhall, principal planner for COMPASS. “It is a major north-south corridor for our area, which we don’t have a lot of. The land use around it is heavily commercial.”
Congestion on the road is caused by the high traffic volumes, as well as the variety of land uses, high volume intersections and lack of public transportation services, according to the report.
In 2018, permits for six commercial projects, two retailers, 570 multifamily units, 349 single-family units and two other residential projects were approved within a mile of Eagle Road from I-84 to Beacon Light Road, according to Luft.
In May, officials broke ground on a 51-acre office park on the southeast corner of Eagle Road and Interstate 84. The office park, Eagle View Landing, will have medical and retail space, along with a hotel and a large outdoor entertainment space. Officials plan to first build a 125,000-square-foot office building.
The previous month, Meridian City Council approved a 99,000-square-foot athletic club and spa on the southwest corner of East Ustick and North Eagle roads. The spa, VillaSport, will have several indoor and outdoor pools, a bar, full feature spa, child care, water slides and an outdoor turf field. The development is estimated to generate 3,774 vehicle trips per day, according to an Ada County Highway District traffic study.
The Village at Meridian also plans to break ground on a 300,000-square-foot expansion on the west side of the complex near Eagle Road later this summer. The expansion will include retail and office.
Unlike other corridors in the Treasure Valley that experience a big peak in the morning and afternoon, Eagle Road is busy all day. Mulhall said typically drivers see traffic start to pick up around 7 a.m.
“It stays busy through the whole afternoon and congestion kind of peaks at that 5 p.m. hour with the typically p.m. commute,” he said. “Then after that it clears up and speeds start to recover.”
Typically roads in the Treasure Valley experience peak hours of 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., but Eagle Road has three peaks on weekdays: 7-8 a.m., 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 3-6 p.m., said Luft.
Because of the road’s central location, it is used as a corridor for residents across the Treasure Valley, not just Meridian, Luft said.
WIDENING EAGLE ROAD
When The Village at Meridian was approved in 2013, the complex’s owner and developer, CenterCal Properties, made a deal with officials to put $25 million into Eagle Road improvements. Those improvements are being done in phases based on developed square feet at The Village, the Meridian Press previously reported.
The state is reimbursing CenterCal for all of that investment using sales tax revenue generated at The Village. The program is part of Idaho's State Tax Anticipation Revenue, or STAR, legislation.
The state paid back the first phase of those improvements. Two of the three phases are complete, the Meridian Press previously reported.
Improvements in the first two phases include:
- A northbound right-turn lane and dual southbound left-turn lanes on Eagle Road
- A westbound right-turn lane on Fairview Avenue and Records Way
- A third northbound travel lane on Eagle Road from Franklin Road to River Valley Street
Phase three of road improvements will start when The Village is above 950 square feet. Officials anticipate construction beginning fiscal year 2020, according to Jake Melder, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Transportation. That phase will include a third southbound lane on Eagle Road from River Valley Street to south of Fairview Avenue, and continuation of that third southbound lane to Franklin Road.
After this section of road is complete, ITD doesn’t have any plans to widen the road in the future. Mulhall said over time “everything is cheaper than adding a lane.”
In order to widen a road, officials have to buy right of way and maintain the asphalt. Even then “you don’t typically see the anticipated benefit you think you would get,” Mulhall said. “It usually adds congestion in a lot of cases.”
Liisa Itkonen, principal planner for COMPASS, said over time it is proven that by adding lanes roads will get more traffic.
“By adding more lanes you’re just encouraging more people to … have single occupancy vehicle trips,” Mulhall said. “You see this benefit right after you finish the project, but soon after you’re right back to where you were because you just induced more demand.”
Starting this fall, ACHD is plans to install new technology at Eagle Road intersections that would help staff make adjustments to stoplight times and improve the flow of the corridor.
The new technology would include improved vehicle detection and more modern traffic signal controllers, feeding ACHD staff information at one-tenth of a second, according to Mike Boydstun, congestion management supervisor for ACHD. That information would be logged and help ACHD staff understand when cars are arriving at stoplights and whether every car is getting through a stoplight during a green light.
The analytics from the software allow staff to “take a closer look if there are any places to adjust to clear queues that haven’t cleared in the one cycle,” said Boydstun.
He said staff plan to finish installing the new technology on all Eagle Road intersections by next spring, at which point they can start collecting the data on traffic patterns.
The same technology was installed on Chinden Boulevard from Locust Grove to Highway 16 in 2016. At that point, cars would start getting backed up on the stretch starting at 4 p.m., Boydstun said. Officials were able to use the data from the technology to push that backup to 4:30 p.m. or 4:45 p.m.
“By being able to look at the real-time data and adjust the timing along Chinden we’re also able to visually confirm the information the system is telling us and see the difference the adjustments we make,” Boydstun said.
The boundaries of the new vehicle detection and modern traffic signal controllers technology would be from Overland Road to Highway 44.
Upgrading intersections to include traffic signal controllers is scheduled to cost $583,000. In June the Idaho Transportation Department had set aside $450,000 for the project, Melder said.
ACHD already monitors traffic flow from cameras during the peak hours. Boydstun said doing that on a day-to-day basis helps staff identify stalled vehicles or crashes so they can send information out to members of the media to let the public know, helping them avoid those areas.
In order to collect data on rush hour traffic, ACHD will have staff drive through congested areas as many times as they can during the peak. Staff will have more data for every intersection of the corridor during peak hours after the new intersection technology is installed.
There are conversations happening between the city and Valley Regional Transit to create a bus route from Ten Mile Crossing to The Village at Meridian with stops throughout the city. Meridian City Council will vote to approve or deny funding for the project later this summer during budget hearings.
If approved the route could connect more than 7,000 people to more than 7,000 jobs, the Meridian Press previously reported. The route is one piece of Valley Connect 2.0 plan, Valley Regional Transit's six-year capital and service plan.
Stephen Hunt, principal planner at Valley Regional Transit, said increasing transit, including funding the route, would have a negligible impact on the congestion on Eagle Road. While it might not be removing cars from the road, the increased transit would give more people the opportunity to move across the Treasure Valley, many of which might not have the option without transit, he said.
Less than 1% of all trips in the Treasure Valley are taken on transit, Hunt said. As it is Valley Regional Transit has two routes with stops in Meridian — Route 40 Nampa Meridian Express and Route 42 Happy Day Transit Center/Towne Square Mall, the Meridian Press previously reported.
A recent survey conducted by Valley Regional Transit found that almost half of respondents found that public transportation was significantly important to the future of Meridian. Of the 260 respondents, 48% said gave a score of above 90 to the question "On a zero to 100 scale, how important is public transportation to the future of Meridian?"
COMPASS estimates that, by 2040, it will take drivers 30 minutes to get from St. Luke’s Meridian to the city of Eagle during peak hours. That is based on a model that assumes all of COMPASS’ funded road projects are completed by then. Projects on the funded list in Meridian include:
- Widening Eagle Road from two to five lanes from Amity Road to Victory Road in 2020.
- Widening the Fairview Avenue and Locust Grove Road intersection to eight lanes on Fairview Avenue and seven lanes on Locust Grove Road in 2022.
Earlier this year, Meridian City Council asked to have the priority of the Linder Road Overpass moved up. The project is currently unfunded, and city officials said they’d be willing to pitch in on project costs if it would speed up construction, the Meridian Press previously reported. The overpass is expected to relieve traffic congestion on both the Ten Mile Road and Meridian Road interchanges, and increase connectivity between north Meridian, south Meridian and Kuna.
Mulhall said even if officials did find funding for the project, he couldn’t say if it would help relieve congestion because it is so far west from Eagle Road.