$100,000,000,000 to Fix Bay Area Transportation? (updated Sept 10, 2019)

On May 30th, the San Francisco Bay Council and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), assisted by transportation consultant Stuart Cohen, presented a plan they call “Faster Bay Area”, to raise up to $100 billion for the purpose of moving the Bay Area beyond the current transportation morass.

As SVLG VP Jason Baker put it…”we think the time is ripe to work for a world class, integrated transit system that is faster, more reliable, more affordable and more equitable…”

Matthew Lituchy, Chief Investment Officer of the Jay Paul Development Company echoed these thoughts by noting (San Jose Mercury July 7th) that “The traditional methods of commuting have gotten over-stressed. Our freeways are impossibly clogged with traffic. Commute durations are at all-time highs. People are looking to commute by alternative methods. Trains, light rail, Caltrain, bus, BART are the alternatives”.

To make the alternatives to solo driving sufficiently appealing to cause a major change in travel habits would indeed require a major effort, including significant improvements to the Bay Area’s transit systems, a strong new emphasis on carpooling and other measures designed to unclog the Region’s thoroughfares.

If wisely spent there is no doubt that $100 billion could do a lot of good, but getting this ambitious program past a skeptical electorate would be not be easy. For starters the sponsors of Faster Bay Area would have to demonstrate that this time it wouldn’t be just more of the same.

During the past four decades, over 120 billion dollars in State, Federal and Bridge Toll transportation capital have passed through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC’s) hands and subsequently been spent by the Region’s transportation agencies, always with rosy promises of improved regional transit and reduced regional congestion. But things have just gotten got worse. The mystery is, how could so much tax money have been spent with so little positive effect on regional transportation?

Could things be different this time? Of course. Here are four prerequisites to a successful program:
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How Municipal Agencies get in Each Other’s Way

Ever wonder why it takes so long to get anything done in San Francisco? Read on:

Six years ago the San Francisco Planning Department and the Ed Lee Administration fixated on accelerating the “full-build-out” of Mission Bay. So they initiated the Rail Alignment and Benefits Study (RAB).
In RAB’s early days the RAB planners were floundering. In an attempt to appear useful they focused on finding as much fault with the Caltrain Downtown Extension project (DTX) as possible. In fact, based on what may have come from the blogosphere, the planners managed to convince themselves that the DTX tracks were wrong, the station layout was wrong, the train turnaround arrangement was wrong, the terminal was too small, the tunnels were too big, the construction approach was wrong and the train storage yard was in the wrong place. As the years rolled by, virtually all of RAB’s criticisms were quietly withdrawn, never to be heard of again. By RAB’s last year it was clear that the only residuals of this singularly wasteful and useless “Study” was a.) a proposed relocation of the rail yard to free up the site for more development (an idea unlikely to leave the starting gate) and b.) a proposed $2 to $3 billion subway under Pennsylvania Street (unlikely to be needed for many years if ever). Given these meager results it appears that the one and only lasting impact of the RAB study was the four year hiatus it imposed on the DTX project.
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More Trouble Ahead for SF City Hall’s Central Subway

Project Management Oversight Consultants (PMOC’s) are retained by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to keep track of major projects paid for in part by FTA grants.  In the case of the Central Subway its PMOC has been warning of staffing, scheduling and other difficulties for years, warnings that the SFMTA has consistently ignored or downplayed, and was still doing as recently as two months ago.

Howard Wong, San Francisco architect and strong long time advocate for better transportation sums up the situation well:  “Anyone reading Federal PMOC Reports, over the last year(s), would have seen ominous construction conditions—masked by rosy SFMTA forecasts. Remember that the recent testing/commissioning of the new LRV’s & BART cars involved long delays.  And the Central Subway requires testing/commissioning/training for complex systems: stations, trains, operations, maintenance and more.”  Continue reading

Unethical Public Agency Behavior

The State Fair Political Practices Commission has just opened a new investigation of whether or not another set of Bay Area public agencies illegally used public resources for political purposes.  This time the State’s action is directed at MTC, BATA and AC Transit for their behavior during last year’s Regional Measure 3 campaign.  (Unless RM3 is struck down by the Courts, assorted Bay Area agencies will soon begin spending most of the $4.45 billion raised by bridge toll increases on 35 selected transportation projects, a few of which are worthwhile but most of which are either wasteful or counterproductive.  The resulting RM3 mishmash would do little to either improve the Region’s currently-disjointed network of trains, buses and ferry boats or reduce highway backups)

Regardless of what the courts decide, the RM3 campaign provides further

substantiation of why so many people in the greater Bay Area no longer trust their local and regional agencies to behave ethically and in the public interest.

Below are few of the ethical and organizational standards that are too often ignored:

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$100,000,000,000 to Fix Bay Area Transportation?

Matthew Lituchy, Chief Investment Officer of a major Bay Area development company, was recently asked how he felt about placing large commercial and residential projects adjacent to transit. Here are excerpts from his response as printed in the San Jose Mercury on July 7, 2019: “Traditional methods of commuting have gotten over-stressed. Our freeways are impossibly clogged with traffic. Commute durations are at all-time highs. People are looking to commute by alternative methods. Trains, light rail, Caltrain, bus, BART are the alternatives. Being in a place where you can easily move around the Bay Area, and both live and work close to these modes of transportation is important”.

Mr. Lituchy’s concerns are shared by millions of other Bay Area residents.

On May 30, 2019, at the Alameda County Transportation Commission retreat, a new plan to raise up to $100 billion to address the Bay Area’s ever worsening transportation condition was unveiled. The Plan, which has apparently been under discussion in private circles for some time, was presented and explained by Bay Council CEO John Grubb; Council Senior VP, Linda Lynn Litvak; Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) VP Jason Baker, and former Transform Executive Director Stuart Cohen.

Problem.pngSince the Plan is still in its earliest stages, the presentation was limited mostly to a description of the Region’s existing transportation problems and the Plan’s strategic, outreach and funding goals and objectives. As Mr. Baker of the SVLG put it, “…..we think the time is ripe to work for a world class, more integrated transit system that is faster, more reliable, more affordable and more equitable for the Bay Area”. Continue reading