ID: All aboard? Biden just nominated a former Boise City Council member for a national post

May 3, 2024
President Joe Biden nominated Elaine Clegg to the Amtrak board of directors; a reflection of dedication to rail and transit.

BOISE, Idaho — When Boise City Council Member Elaine Clegg stepped down in November to join Valley Regional Transit as CEO, she told The Idaho Statesman that “rail is a big issue of mine” and would be a focus for her in the new role at the regional public transportation authority for Ada and Canyon counties.

“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to do regional rail here,” Clegg said. “That could be a game-changer in terms of how people move around regionally in the valley.”

If rail was her plan, it seems she’s right on track. On Thursday, Valley Regional Transit announced in a news release that President Joe Biden had nominated Clegg to the Amtrak board of directors.

“This appointment reflects Clegg’s leadership, dedication to public transportation, and commitment to advancing the nation’s rail infrastructure,” according to the release. “Her nomination to the Amtrak Board of Directors is a testament to her innovative thinking and tireless advocacy for improving transportation options for this region.”

In the release, Clegg said she is eager to serve at a moment when passenger rail is “making a comeback” and the West is seeking to expand its railways. Boise hasn’t been served by Amtrak in 27 years.

“I think if we don’t get a handle on offering transportation choices, we’ll follow the path of many Western cities that sprawl forever — ‘till their traffic gets so bad that they have to do something else,” she told the Statesman in November.

The announcement comes after a revelation in March that Idaho missed out on a $500,000 federal grant to study the return of an Amtrak line — because the Idaho Transportation Department accidentally applied for the wrong grant, the Statesman previously reported. The grant would have allowed the region to explore the costs to bring back passenger rail between Caldwell and Salt Lake City, and could have opened the door to significantly more funding down the road.

As the Statesman reported in December, Boise and its surrounding cities haven’t had passenger rail service since 1997. Amtrak ran trains along the Pioneer Line, which included stops in Portland, Oregon; Boise, Salt Lake City and Denver, for 20 years, but ridership was low and federal budget cuts forced its closure.

Multiple Idaho political leaders in both parties have pushed to bring Amtrak back. Among them are Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, a Democrat; and Gov. Brad Little, U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, all Republicans.

“This was an error and we feel bad, but mistakes happen,” a spokesperson for ITD, told the Statesman in March.

Clegg’s nomination awaits Senate confirmation. The release did not specify a time frame for that process.

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