CTAI strives to improve mobility throughout Idaho, including its many rural areas

May 23, 2013

Idaho is well-known for its natural beauty, wide open spaces, and rural ruggedness. Not so much for its public transportation system, though, and traditionally its rural residents have had difficulty accessing mobility options.

The Community Transportation Association of Idaho, CTAI, is working to change that, however. Its programs, including the I-way initiative, are raising public awareness about the value of improved mobility and fostering partnerships and collaboration amongst key stakeholders to improve mobility options throughout Idaho.

CTAI was formed in the late 1970s and worked primarily on coalescing earmark applications for federal transportation funding submitted by several of Idaho’s transportation agencies. In addition, CTAI facilitated Idaho’s Rural Transportation Assistance Program, established and funded by the Federal Transit Administration, which provides training, technical assistance and other support services tailored to meet the specific needs of transit operators in areas with a population of less than 50,000.

While CTAI’s mission has changed only slightly over the decades, its board of directors saw the association’s role expanding and, in 2009, hired Heather Wheeler to serve as its first, full-time executive director.

Initially, CTAI had no office space and no staff other than Wheeler. Today, CTAI has offices in downtown Boise and across the state and employs ten professionals, including six mobility managers.

Wheeler says geography continues to present one of the biggest challenges for Idaho’s public transportation systems.

“Idaho’s public transit agencies must cover a lot of land to serve Idaho’s very rural communities. Idaho only has five urban areas, per the census, so public transit agencies across the state are trying to cover a lot of miles to get people from point A to point B,” she says.

Funding is also a persistent hurdle. As Wheeler explains, rural communities tend to lack the funding and resources necessary to improve transportation options, and Idaho doesn’t allow cities or counties to impose a local sales tax unless they are considered a resort community with fewer than 10,000 people.

“That puts a lot of constraints on the cities and counties to adequately fund public transportation in their communities because those government entities are typically using any of the state sales tax or property tax revenues for basic services like police and fire. Public transit is lower on the priority list,” she says.

While CTAI has its share of challenges, Wheeler says it has been rewarding to witness the success of its I-way initiative. The program works to improve transportation options by bringing together local providers, citizens, and agencies to build partnerships and plan for a better future to meet the unique needs of every Idaho community.

I-way's vision of a statewide system of flexible, convenient, accessible transportation options goes beyond the traditional focus of public transit to include all modes of transportation, from getting people to a medical appointment, to the big game, or home for the holidays.

“I really feel the I-way initiative has enhanced the awareness of the value of improved public transportation options across the state,” Wheeler says. “We’re bringing a lot more communities to the table to engage in the planning, coordination and funding application processes.”

CTAI and its mobility managers also are working to build public-private partnerships to help fill the funding void for public transportation. And, in the process, continue to spread the word that improved transportation options is essential to communities throughout Idaho.

“My hope is we will continue to raise awareness about the value that public transportation can bring to the state, and encourage people to explore all sources of funding to improve transportation options that get people from point A to point B for economic vitality and quality of life,” Wheeler says.

Kittelson & Associates is a sponsor of the 2013 CTAI Conference & Expo at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in September. KAI’s Sonia Hennum, PE, PTOE, is a CTAI board member.

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