From ITD reports and the Spokane Spokesman
Commissioners signed an agreement Tuesday that will provide a daily fixed-route service in the urbanized area of rapidly growing Kootenai County.
The Idaho Transportation Board amended its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to clear the way for new and expanded transportation service.
Board member John McHugh, representing northern Idaho’s District 1, said he is pleased with the improved relationship between KMPO and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. He also thanked the partners for the their farsighted approach to addressing public transportation needs in Kootenai County.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe will complete the service from De Smet, Tensed and Plummer to Worley and points north. Regularly scheduled service in the Coeur d’Alene urbanized area also will be expanded. These services are consistent with the public transportation plan being developed for the Kootenai metropolitan area.
The expanded system will provide daily bus service with stops and regular routes in Coeur d’Alene, Hayden and Post Falls beginning in April. Buses will travel as far south as De Smet in Benewah County and stop at popular destinations such as the Coeur d’Alene Casino, Benewah Medical Center, Coeur d’Alene Resort, Silver Lake Mall and Kootenai Medical Center.
The tribe will cover most of the costs, and riders will not be charged for using the service.
"If we're bringing people from Coeur d'Alene here, it's good for our businesses," Francis SiJohn, a Coeur d'Alene Tribal Councilman, said Tuesday as Kootenai County commissioners voting 25 miles to the north of him were approving their county's support for the new service. "Maybe they'll spend the money they save in the casino or the tribal store. We're trying to bring people down here."
The bus service is a cooperative venture between the tribe and the KMPA. It's the brainchild of John Austin, a transportation planner for the Panhandle Area Council.
Austin began reshaping Kootenai County's bus transportation in 2002. The 2000 census bumped the Coeur d'Alene area into a new urban division, making it ineligible for rural money that had helped pay for the limited bus system it had. If people needed a ride, they called a day ahead to arrange it. There were no regular routes.
Rules were different under the urban designation. Coeur d'Alene needed a group of city, county and highway district officials to administer Federal Transportation Administration money sent to the area. The KMPO also needed to find local matches for the federal transportation money the area received.
Kootenai Medical Center, North Idaho College and Aging and Adult Services helped, and buses that traveled on-call for each of those organizations continued.
Last year, KMPO hired a Portland firm, Nelson/Nygaard, to survey the area's transportation needs and create a long-range plan. Information the firm collected showed a need for regular, established routes in the urban area that coordinated with rural routes.
The tribe already ran free buses several times a week from the casino to Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and Hayden and back to the casino. Riders need to be 18 years old and planning to spend time at the casino, hotel or the tribe's Circling Raven golf course.
Austin figured KMPO could contribute some of its federal money to cover the tribe's costs to run its buses. In exchange, the tribe could increase its daily schedule of regular stops in Coeur d'Alene and offer service seven days a week. The tribe would have to drop its age and casino-destination requirement for riders.
"I went to the (Kootenai County) commissioners. They said talk to the tribe," Austin said.
The tribe was interested. Just as KMPO was looking for a way to transport people around Coeur d'Alene, the tribe was looking for a way to transport people off the reservation to shop, go to school, and visit doctors – any number of reasons.
"We ultimately want to give people access to services
in Benewah and Kootenai counties," SiJohn said.