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April 12, 2011 > Countywide Transportation Plan

Countywide Transportation Plan

By Simon Wong

The Countywide Transportation Plan (CWTP) is a long-range policy document that guides transportation investment, programs and policy for Alameda County over the next 25-30 years. In turn, the CWTP is Alameda County's input to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Regional Transportation Plan. If the transportation needs of any segments of the population are not represented in the CWTP, they stand little chance of funding.

The Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), chartered with administering the county's half-cent transportation sales tax, held five public meetings in March and an online questionnaire to facilitate as broad a vision as possible and a transportation expenditure plan (TEP) to determine how funds will be allocated.

"The CWTP recognizes the economic cycle. There will be many down economies during 30 years," said Bonnie Nelson, Nelson Nygaard. "Creating the CWTP will necessitate really good planning to prepare for the next downturn. The CWTP is updated every four years so we shall also have the opportunity for revision as the financial future changes."

TEP is just one element of the CWTP and dictates how the [Measure B] half-cent sales tax, collected for transportation purposes in Alameda County, may be spent. Monies are invested in a very specific set of capital projects (construction) and programs (services) as part of the expenditure plan. A new expenditure plan is being considered for the November 2012 ballot requiring two-thirds voter approval; it will either extend or increase the sales tax to provide funding for a new set of projects and programs.

Voters approved Measure B in 2002 for a 20-year term. The recession and decline in sales tax means Measure B funds have fallen short of projections; hence the need for a new TEP. The funding shortfall has severely impacted programs such as paratransit, subsidy for AC Transit, local street-and-road maintenance, bicycle and pedestrian programs, which receive a percentage of annual transportation tax revenue. This is a key reason for a new TEP before Measure B expires. Fortunately, many capital projects have been delivered despite the Measure B shortfall because of stimulus funds and other unexpected one-time federal, state and regional grants which closed funding gaps for these projects.

"Involvement in the CWTP has led to real change. The BART to Warm Springs Extension project first appeared in a CWTP more than 20 years ago. Funding was eventually put in place and the project is now under construction," said Nelson.

Although county residents might not know what their needs will be in 20 years, the CWTP looks even farther ahead. What is decided today will go toward meeting those needs which will be identified and incorporated in the CWTP during periodic revisions.

It is known that roads and highways are under-maintained and need funding. In 2008, Alameda County projected a $3.8 billion shortfall for maintaining streets, roads and bridges in the nine-county Bay Area over the next 25 years.

Although many claim to be environmentally-conscious, the Bay Area has some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. As population grows, the transportation infrastructure must support more travelers making new trips. There is also a need to upgrade transportation management systems to optimize use of that infrastructure, traffic movement and return value to taxpayers. Demand management will attempt to address issues such as what might be done to persuade fewer people to drive during peak hours, to consistently ride transit instead of driving or the feasibility of tools such as partnerships with employers and businesses.

As gas prices approached $4 per gallon, motorists began to leave their cars relying on an aging transit system to support greater ridership. Regionally, there is an $8 billion transit operating deficit. AC Transit has cut services and raised fares. BART is projecting a $6 billion capital deficit over 25 years and needs to modernize, expand capacity and maintain safety system-wide.

Preliminary Census 2010 data points to an aging population in Alameda County. This will become more pronounced as baby-boomers become seniors. What transportation modes are appropriate? This is an important issue given that this demographic is remaining younger for longer than their parents' generation and wants activity and mobility.

Healthy lifestyles are advocated but there are barriers to safe and comfortable bicycling and walking. There is a need for safe routes for those who wish to do so. Moreover, transportation is not limited to movement of people. Goods must reach their markets and consumers. It is essential to provide for the transportation needs of ports, airports, trucks and trains.

ACTC conducted the first round of outreach meetings for the CWTP and the TEP in March.2011. The first round of projects and programs will be announced in July/Fall when the public will again have the opportunity to comment and help shape the CWTP document. More earnest consideration of the TEP will begin at about the same time - how much, its term and other details.

Public participation is important. For an idea to be funded, a public agency must be involved. Although ideas are evaluated, they might provide the impetus for some fine tuning by project sponsors who have identified similar needs for the CWTP.

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