Why Doesn't The Treasure Valley Have A North/South Freeway?

Aug 4, 2017

We’ve been asking you for questions and you’ve been sending them our way. In the latest installment of our news experiment, we meet Jordan Harris. He works for one of the big hospitals in Boise managing a team of couriers. The roads are a major facet of his job, so it’s no surprise Jordan’s question has to do the freeways.

Question-asker Jordan Harris stopped by the KBSX studios to chat with Matt Guilhem about why Boise doesn't have a north/south freeway.
Credit Lacey Daley / Boise State Public Radio

"Why do we not have a north/south freeway? I’ve heard it was proposed; I want to know if it was proposed and if it was rejected,” is what he submitted to our news experiment, and what you voted as the winning question for us to report.

Well, we gave it a think, made some calls and here’s what we found.

If you look at a map, you’ll find the Treasure Valley is actually replete with highways. There’s State Highway 44 – a.k.a. State Street, US 20/26 – better known as Chinden and Highway 55 leading up to McCall. However, they’re freeways with caveats. All of them are corridors through the region, but each has stop lights. Out of all of these, only Highway 55 – part of which is Eagle Road – runs north/south.

Jennifer Gonzalez is a spokesperson for the Idaho Transportation Department in Boise and our freeway sage. I put Jordan’s question of why we don’t have a north/south freeway in the Treasure Valley to her.

“That is a really good question,” she said. The main north/south route the department is working on is State Highway 16. Gonzalez says the road to Emmett will eventually run all the way from Interstate 84, past State and Chinden.

Gonzalez says there’s no established timeline for when that new north/south artery will be complete. So, there’s that. But Jordan – and many others – have heard rumors of a different freeway.

He describes it as “an urban myth at this point.”

He’s talking about the ring road.

“I don’t know if it’s actually true,” he says, “but I was always told that in the 90s, someone proposed a circular freeway like they have in most cities where you get off at all the different little towns and suburbs. But it was rejected because it was a ‘California idea.’”

As a native of the Golden State, I’ll overlook that.

This mid-century Dodge Royal was probably new when the Federal Highway Administration was planning the interstate system and possibly considered a ring road or major north/south freeway for the Treasure Valley.
Credit Matt Guilhem / Boise State Public Radio

An official at the Idaho Division of the Federal Highway Administration in Boise said maybe back in the early days, when the highway system was getting drawn up, there may have been talk of a north/south route. But, as commuters hit the road each day, they see that plan didn’t come to pass in the age of Eisenhower and skinny ties.

ITD’s Jennifer Gonzalez says she too has gotten wind of the ring road chatter.

“There have been rumors over the years about some type of bypass perhaps that would go around the Treasure Valley from points south of Boise,” she says. “So while there have been whispers about that, and I’ve certainly heard it as well, there has never been a proposal from this agency to build that type of system.”

According to Gonzalez, ITD’s mission is to maintain and preserve the existing road system; that means no new freeways are planned.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Starting next year, a major expansion project of I-84 between Caldwell and Nampa is set to get underway. It’s not a north/south route, but when it’s done it will relieve the headaches of thousands of drivers.

Questioner Jordan Harris isn’t too disappointed at the prospect of no ring road on the agenda for transportation planners.

“I think it’s not going to happen because everything’s kind of grown together,” Harris says. “But I think my assumption was, at one point, it would’ve been very easy to do.”

You know what they say about assuming, Jordan. Every once in a blue moon you’re exactly right.

This story is part of a listener-generated project at KBSX. Last month, we asked you – our readers – what you’re curious about in the region. We received a bunch of great questions, and you voted on your favorite (Jordan Harris’s question). We want to hear more of your ideas. Ask your question below!

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