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Opinion: Regional transportation planning a mess

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  • 5/26 Contra Costa Times
    Published Saturday, May 26, 2001, in the Contra Costa Times Transportation: What a mess By Theresa Keegan Columnist Transportation is one of the hottest topics
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2001
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      Published Saturday, May 26, 2001, in the Contra Costa Times

      Transportation: What a mess

      By Theresa Keegan
      Columnist

      Transportation is one of the hottest topics in the East Bay, so I
      attended a regional planning to see how folks are dealing with this
      critical issue. I now know why our roads are such a mess.

      Here's the scenario: The Contra Costa Transportation Agency was
      slated to make a spending recommendation to the larger Metropolitan
      Transportation Commission. There'd been public hearings before this,
      but this was the final decision. It's a big deal, not just because it
      involves gazillions of dollars, but also because the decisions affect
      our daily lives. ... I think.

      In the back of my mind I fear CCTA's requests to MTC are a bit like
      kids asking for dessert several times a day -- the action's
      tolerated, but never taken seriously.

      But in any event, the county's recommendations on transit were going
      to be made, and I wanted to know what they were. So I naively went to
      my first regional transit meeting.

      I wasn't armed with any nifty media packet, which has all the
      supporting documents and forms. I entered as most citizens do, armed
      with nothing more than an interest in the process. I left as a
      schmoe, stuck with paying the tab for this folly.

      Throughout three hours of discussion, clarity was more scarce than a
      parking space at Pleasant Hill BART.

      One action involved three, color-coded presentations. They were
      neatly identified as "Handouts pertaining to agenda Item 3 point B
      point 6 point 1 and Item 3 point B point 6 point 2 and Item 3 point B
      point 6 point 3."

      I looked around to see if "Candid Camera" was doing a spoof on
      bureaucratese, realized no one else saw the black humor and decided
      to seriously shuffle through my papers, which were color-coded pink
      and goldenrod -- not yellow, the presenter clarified -- and green.

      Here was the presentation I heard, starting with the reason why the
      meeting was being held:

      The 2001 RTP update, from the RTP adopted in 1998 is based on air
      quality conformity findings. It's needed because the FHWA of January
      1999 expires and if not adopted by January 2002, we'd go into a
      conformity lax. Because MTC will adopt in November 2001, it allows
      FHWA to keep the Bay Area in compliance.

      Translation: MTC really has no control over transit -- everything is
      based on clean air. And we're still breathing, so we must be OK.

      Then some historical background was offered:

      In 1994 ISTEA came along and state and federal transportation funding
      got all confusing and now things are really in a mess because TLC is
      taking over.

      Translation: I'm not sure. But I was annoyed a nice refreshing drink
      did not pass my way, but joyous that a group hug fest didn't ensue.

      Instead, a bunch of numbers were tossed about so rapidly I suffered
      algebra flashbacks. And in there somewhere, someone uttered something
      about the Intermodal Service Transportation Efficiency Act and
      Transit for Livable Communities, but nothing about iced tea or tender
      loving care.

      I kid you not when I say this is what transpired. ... I think.

      There's $81.4 billion available, but $73.9 billion is committed to
      project maintenance and operation, which leaves $7.5 billion, but 60
      percent goes to local, 13 percent to federal, 13 percent to regional,
      bridge ... wait -- were state funds mentioned?

      The number rant continued: $4.4 billion to MTC leaves $3.1 billion,
      but $418 million goes to Contra Costa, but $280 million is tied into
      previous commitments, which leaves $138 million for new programs, but
      there's $148 million for BART and AC transit, but then there's $60
      billion to BART, therefore CCTA approach to the RTP supports
      flexibility to ensure stable funding.

      Got it? Too bad if you didn't, because that concluded presentation 3
      point B point 6 point 1, accountability for regional programs.

      But it gets better.

      The executive director then explained he had a conversation that
      afternoon where he discovered it was "unlikely MTC would completely
      retreat." And so he offered a fallback proposal. As best I could
      gather, the staff wanted to double the TLC; the MTC is tripling the
      amount. The board, which includes city and county representatives,
      listened to numerous comments from the public and conducted a
      thorough discussion, which ultimately resulted in a split, 5-5 vote.

      Aha! I wasn't the only one undecided!

      After further finagling, discussions of percentages and odds that
      sounded like an off-track betting parlor on a Saturday afternoon, a
      motion unanimously passed. And other items were sent back to the
      planning committee. Guess they weren't confusing enough to be
      addressed yet. They needed more acronyms, more figures, more
      confusion.

      I left, three hours later, with one thought running through my
      swirling brain: If these are the solutions, the problem is even worse
      than anyone imagined.

      Keegan's column runs Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Reach her at
      925-977-8531 or by e-mail at tkeegan@....
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