Bay Area Transportation won’t get Better until Government gets Better

Bay Area Transportation won’t get Better until Government gets better.
It was recently noted that until local and regional transportation agencies become functional the Bay Area’s transportation problems will just get worse. Not every agency in the Bay Area is dysfunctional but quite a few engaged in the transportation field are. Here are five examples. We will have more to say on this subject in subsequent editions of this Newsletter.

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An Open Letter to Aaron Peskin

Peskin3Dear Supervisor Peskin:

Last month the SF Board of Supervisors, acting as the SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), took back $9.6 million it had previously allocated to help pay for sending the Caltrain trains into SF’s new Salesforce Transit Center. According to the San Francisco Examiner the reason for this was to avoid paying for the “expansion planning” of the Transit Center. But the $9.6 million in question was not for expanding the Phase I Transit Center, it was for completing the preliminary engineering design of the Phase II Downtown Caltrain Extension Project (DTX). According to the Examiner the reason given for blocking the DTX funding was to hold the leadership of the Transit Center project (presumably meaning the Transbay Joint Powers Authority and Staff, and the SF County Transportation Authority’s own well-funded oversight staff) “accountable for alleged mismanagement of the $2.2 billion Transit Center”.

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How Caltrans Administers its Roadway Projects

CaltrainArticleCalifornia Senate Bill 1 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on April 28, 2017.  State Prop 6 would have rescinded SB 1 but it was defeated by the voters of California on November 6, 2018. For this reason SB1 will continue to raise $0.12 a gallon in additional gas taxes. It is estimated that by 2020 this new funding source will be raising $5.1 billion a year in new State revenues, 2/3rd of which has been earmarked for road projects.

Given this large new source of funding now would be a good time to take a close look at how Caltrans spends its roadway money. One way of assessing Caltrans efficiency relative to that of other states is to compare its administration and engineering costs (soft costs) to construction costs. The table below shows California’s soft costs as a percentage of construction costs in comparison with those of other large and populous states:

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An Open Letter to SFMTA Director

Dear Ed…

Thanks for attending and joining in at the September 29th Transportation Forum. Your participation was clearly appreciated. The outline below was what BATWG had expected to present at the Forum. The proposals reflect some of what’s needed to strengthen the SFMTA and improve the City’s response to its overall transportation problem. We hope they are of use:

A. The SFMTA Board

Granting the MTA immunity from day-to-day political influences (through SF Prop E adopted in 1999 and SF Prop A adopted in 2007) was probably a good idea. However 4-year terms for appointed local officials is too long. The elected Mayor and Supervisors should be able to intercede when necessary every two years. The terms of the MTA  Board members should be reduced from 4 years to 2. Being an MTA Board member is a difficult and demanding job. All seven members of the MTA Board must therefore be strong and committed individuals. Continue reading

A Letter to MTC Commissioners and ABAG Executive Board Members

To MTC Commissioners and ABAG Executive Board members:

An important and difficult decision is before you; namely, the selection of the next MTC Executive Director. The Region is currently afflicted with chronic gridlock and a badly disconnected patchwork of trains, buses and boats. To ensure that the best possible candidates are identified and screened for the job, BATWG strongly recommends that this important selection be pursuant to a thorough and professional national search conducted by objective individuals highly experienced in the field. The process should also be informed by input from the MTC Board, ABAG, the local jurisdictions, the transit agencies and other stakeholders.

In an effort to inform the selection process we cite the successful tenure of Paul C. Watt, MTC’s first Executive Director. Here are some of the qualities that helped Mr. Watt to introduce and successfully promote the concept of regionalism to the Greater Bay Area. Continue reading