SPOILER: We’re going to be discussing a planning and traffic puzzle that can’t be fully addressed in one gulp. We’ll start the explanation today and finish tomorrow. Fair enough?
It’s finally time to take a good look at the survey we’ve had going for the past few weeks.
We asked what you really loved most about living in Kootenai County, and what — if anything — might bother you about our little Northwest slice of heaven.
Now this isn’t the normal way of doing things, I understand, but we’re going to take a look at your answers, ummm …
We’re going to open on the negative side.
Well, because of the nearly 130 responses the questions generated, there really were countless things praised — but almost everyone had one overwhelming complaint.
Reader after reader exploded about the traffic.
Moreover, a whole lot of folks blamed city and county planners for letting the problem get away from them, and that they are continuing to do so.
I received a couple dozen emails that said almost exactly the same thing — that runaway development was clogging streets and highways — so I’ll just pick one to represent the whole bag.
Sharon McInturff of Hayden referenced a letter to the editor we’d published about traffic problems in the county.
“The gentleman who wrote the letter,” Ms. McInturff said, “suggested that Kootenai County should put a five-year moratorium on building in Kootenai County, until our infrastructure can catch up with all our booming growth.
“I think we need to start a citizens’ movement to do just that.”
Unfortunately, that idea wouldn’t get very far.
For a variety of reasons, various cities in the county (not to mention the state’s view of the overall economic picture) indicate that we’re going to see more and more construction — and a major share of it is going to come before our transportation infrastructure can catch up.
Brace yourself for more endless lines of cars.
Wait, you say!
What does the state have to do with it?
OK, listen to Sam Wolkenhauer, an Idaho Department of Labor regional analyst: “The key to everything is construction. We were glad to see all the permitting this summer.
“We were reaching the point where there wasn’t enough housing inventory, and that was causing regular working people to get squeezed out by retirees moving here with a lot of money to spend.”
SO RIGHT off the bat, the big picture looked gloomy for everyday citizens unless the county saw more housing and apartment development.
And we know that transportation plans are about three years behind the growth curve.
“That’s just the reality, unless somebody shows up with a check for $400 million out of nowhere,” said Glenn Miles, executive director of the Kootenai Metro Planning Organization.
There is a puzzle in this, though, that I truly didn’t understand.
Why not slow down development just a bit, and try to balance it against the coming road and highway improvements?
What do cities like Post Falls, Rathdrum and Hayden achieve by annexing more and more residential areas?
After all, it’s the first rule of development that cities cannot recoup in property taxes what they pay out in services for new construction.
David Callahan, Kootenai County’s director of community development, insists that’s the No. 1 thing to remember.
“Adding commercial or light industrial property is worth it, but if you see cities hurrying to annex large residential areas, there have to be other reasons,” Callahan said.
IT TURNS out that there are.
Consider this: Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson commutes to work in Coeur d’Alene, which is pretty much the most brutal traffic assignment in the county.
Interstate 90 is perpetually one fender-bender from being completely stopped, maybe for more than an hour during the busiest times of day.
And if you live in the northern part of Post Falls, well, you can try Highway 41 to Prairie Avenue — but neither of those roads was built for the current traffic load, and it shows.
In other words, Jacobson and a lot of his constituents must be tempted to say some naughty words as they commute twice a day.
You’d assume, therefore, that many of those same constituents might turn their language toward Jacobson, the city’s planners and the City Council with a question something like …
“Why in the hell are you letting developers build new homes everywhere, when they’re going to make the traffic even worse?”
There are multiple answers, and we can’t fit them all into today’s column.
Come back on Saturday, and we’ll let Jacobson and other city officials from around the county defend what seems like a very unpopular scheme.
Remember, I was a doubter, too.
But they actually have pretty solid reasons.
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.
A Brand New Day appears from Wednesday through Saturday each week.
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