OAKLAND – The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is calling all those who spend their time waiting at bus stops, or idling in traffic, dreaming up ways to fix the transportation system. The primary agency for regional transportation planning, MTC is holding a series of meetings to receive public input on the development of the Regional Transportation Plan. The plan is revised every three years and guides funding priorities for Bay Area transportation projects. That includes highways, roads and public transit as well as bike and pedestrian roadways.
The kick-off for these public meetings was held Tuesday at MTC’s Oakland offices. According to MTC officials, almost two hundred people circulated through the exhibit identifying their priorities for transportation funding.
“We’re making a really concerted effort to reach out and involve the public around the choices and decisions that have to be made,” said Marjorie Blackwell, spokesperson for the transportation commission. “We’re really doing a much more concerted effort.”
The public meetings are part of a larger attempt to get more public involvement, particularly from low-income and minority individuals. A 19-member group directs MTC; it includes 14 appointed officials representing each of the nine Bay Area counties, two representatives from regional development organizations, and three representatives of federal agencies.
The planning agency came under fire during a 1999 federal review by the Federal
Transit and Federal Highway Administrations, agencies that oversee the use of federal funds. They gave MTC conditional certification to receive public money, saying they needed to increase public participation.
Although public meetings were held three years ago during the last regional plan review, this time the questions involve basic transportation values. “Instead of saying, these are proposals and what do you think? We’re trying to get them involved up front,” Blackwell said.
Those larger questions include where money should be spent, on public transportation or on roadways, and who should pay the cost for service enhancements. “Underlying all of the choices are values,” said consultant Daniel Lacofano, who mediated the discussion, “We want to try and elucidate these values more than we have in the past.”
MTC spokesperson Randy Rentschler said that getting the message out to “John Q Public” is one of MTC’s biggest challenges. The commission advertised Tuesday’s meeting by sending out a press release and notifying a contact list, a self-selecting group of individuals who have shown concern about transit issues. They chose not to place an ad in local papers because of the high cost.
The choice impacted the event: Although many cities and counties were represented, the comments showed a common mindset.
Participants believed that more money should be spent on alternatives to “single-occupancy vehicles” the one person per car model that congests Bay Area roadways.
Anthony Rodgers, representative of the Amalgamated Transit Union 192, received shouts and claps when appealing for a focus on alternatives. “We can not continue to build our way out of our transit problems,” he said, referring to new highways, bridges and tunnels. “If we build it, it is dumb.” Instead, he insisted that what are now last-choice alternatives of public transit must become viable options.
People overwhelmingly favored an increase in the gasoline tax and bridge tolls to fund projects, and participants almost unanimously agreed that it’s important to coordinate development and transportation.
“I’m concerned about sprawl,” said Bob Sarnoff of Berkeley. He made an organic analogy. “Transportation is like blood,” he said, because wherever you extend transportation lines such as BART or extensive freeways, housing and development will grow.
But Sarnoff added that containing growth and development often conflicts with communities that want to prevent growth inside the city. “Perhaps that development should be in Berkeley,” He said. “Do we agree to have infill?”
The information that comes from the public meetings will be synthesized and presented to the Transportation Commissioners at a meeting March 28. Of the $130 billion in government funds projected to make up the transportation budget in the next 25 years, the majority of it is already tied up in long-term maintenance and projects. The Regional Transportation Plan will direct the disbursement of the estimated $13 billion that is available for new projects, Rentschler said. And $13 billion, he said, is still a lot of money.
However, MTC spokespeople said that the best place for people to give input is at the county level. Each county has a Congestion Management Agency that recommends specific projects to be included in the Regional Transportation Plan. The information from the public meetings will also be given to those agencies.
“I’m certainly going to be requesting that we get a detailed itemization of any suggestions put forward,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Berkeley’s representative to the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency.
Although Berkeley resident Jeff Hobson, East Bay Coordinator of the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition, felt satisfied with the consensus produced in the meeting, he was still concerned about the accountability of the officials to the public input. “I think we really want to see how the comments will be turned into action,” he said.