Bay Area call for transportation projects

The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which oversees planning and financing of transportation in the nine-county Bay Area, issued a Call for Projects for the for the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS). This is part of the process to determine what major regional projects receive funding for the 2013 Transportation Plan.

Caltrain, capital funds, and operations

For those with the bright idea of using this project money for Caltrain operational expenses, most of the funds for these projects are specifically for capital costs only. This is why Caltrain can afford to rebuild train stations and install shiny new signs while making draconian service cuts.

Why not just transfer that cash from the capital funds bucket into the operational funds bucket? Our transportation department bureaucracies have some discretion in how funds are used, but not that much. State and Federal law put heavy restrictions on how funds are used, and that law was made that way by you, the voters as well as by our duly elected legislators. It literally takes an act of Congress to change Federal law, and when our Congress bickers about whether the Federal Government will even have funds to operate after this week, minutiae about commuter rail operating funds aren’t even on the radar. In California, transportation funds are raised through various voter-approved Propositions. The previous governor tried to divert some of these funds for other uses, but the courts were able to stop at least part of that raiding. Beyond that, another citizen proposition is required to change the way that, say, Prop 42 funds are spent.

That written, MTC’s list of Program Categories in their RTP includes one for transit operations and maintenance, which is described as “Ongoing non-capital costs, preventive maintenance.” Encourage Caltrain’s board to put hat in hand and make passenger rail on the peninsula a priority by making those O&M funds available.

In the SF Bay Area, all transportation projects vying for Federal and State funds must be identified in the MTC RTP/SCS.

Projects are vetted through the county Congestion Management Agencies, though MTC will also accept project proposals from Caltrans and “multi-county transit agencies”. This means you, as a private citizen, can’t go directly to the MTC with your transportation project idea. You can, however, contact you county’s Congestion Management Agency — the East Bay Bicycle Coalition lists them here.

You should also show up at your city and county Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) or Transportation Advisory Committee meetings. You can generally find info about these meetings at your city and county’s website on either the planning page or transportation page. If your city council has a transportation or planning subcommittee, you can show up at those meetings as well to give your public comment, or submit written comment via email or snail mail. Finally, you should also contact your city council and county supervisors.

Any projects planned for the 2013 time frame have likely already been identified at the local level. Your job as a citizen is to find what plans have been proposed, and lobby your local transportation department to put the ones you like in the RTP. You can also propose plans of your own to public officials if. The MTC expects local agencies to perform public outreach to solicit project ideas as well.

SB 375

This 2013 RTP is the first Bay Area Call for Projects under California SB 375, which became law in 2009. It requires regional planning agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through transportation and land use components to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled. The “SCS” component of this regional transportation plan addresses this goal.

The specific goals of MTC’s 2013 RTP:

  • Reduce GHG emissions by cars and light duty trucks by 15%.
  • House the regions projected growth in population without displacing current low-income residents.
  • Reduce premature deaths due to exposure to particulate matter pollution.
  • Reduce traffic collision injuries and fatalities — including those of pedestrians and cyclists — by 50%.
  • Focus on infill development to preserve Bay Area agriculture and open space.
  • For low income households, decrease transportation and housing expenses by 10% the share of income used.
  • Increase Gross Regional Product by 2.1% each year as a measure of economic vitality.
  • Decrease average trip time 10% for non-auto transportation.
  • Decrease vehicle miles traveled by 10%.
  • Update and upgrade existing public transportation.

Bonanza for cycling

For cycling advocates, this year’s RTP process is the most important ever. With legislated emphasis on sustainable communities and greenhouse gas emissions, bicycle facilities and promotion can receive a big boost in funding beginning in 2013. Projects that fall under the scope of the RTP include any and all bicycle facilities — new facilities, expansion of existing facilities, streetscapes, bike parking, mobility improvements and so forth.

Residents all around the Bay Area should review the San Francisco Bay Trail plan. If you live in San Mateo County, review the (frankly crappy) proposed San Mateo County Bike Plan which just came up for review last week. The East Bay Bicycle Coalition already has a list of many bike related projects in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. San Francisco residents, take a look at what’s happening in your city and bug your county supervisors. Marin County, you have a lot going on too. Sonoma, here’s maybe a chance to repair your roads. And both of those counties can maybe get financial help with the proposed rail-with-trail along the Sonoma Marin commuter rail.

The submissions started today and will continue only until April 29, so show up and ask for what you want.

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