TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND
16 Monte Cimas Avenue Mill Valley, CA 94941
415-380-8600 383-0776 fax
January 6, 2005
By E-mail & U.S. mail
Steve Heminger, Executive Director
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
101 Eighth Street Oakland, CA 94607
Re: Draft Transportation 2030 Plan DEIR
Dear Mr. Heminger:
The Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, TRANSDEF, herein offers its comments on the 2005 Regional Transportation Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). TRANSDEF is very appreciative of the efforts made by MTC staff to analyze the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative, both in the DEIR and in the Equity Analysis. The publication of the DEIR marks the completion of TRANSDEFs principal goal over the past decade: to have MTC consider a strategic approach to regional transportation planning. The DEIR analysis now offers MTC evidence of the value of policies it has not previously considered. However, the significance of that evidence is diminished and blurred by some of the key decisions made in the DEIR analysis. These comments are directed at clarification of the results of the analysis.
Selection of Preferred Alternative
The Comparative Impact Analysis is incorrect when it states MTC may adopt any of the alternatives included in this EIR. (p. 3.1-6) It may not adopt the Proposed Project as its Regional Transportation Plan, as that term is defined in federal law. From the very beginning of the scoping process up to the time of this comment letter, TRANSDEF has consistently stated that MTC was incorrect in defining as its Proposed Project the fiscally unconstrained alternative variously known as Big Tent or Vision Element. On page 6 of Appendix A, TRANSDEF is quoted as saying at the scoping session that Proposed Project cannot be adopted by the MTC because MTC is required by law to adopt a fiscally constrained plan. TRANSDEF is firm in its assertion that the proper alternative to which all the other alternatives should have been compared is the Fiscally Constrained Alternative. That alternative is what MTC will be adopting in the discharge of its Regional Transportation Planning Agency or Metropolitan Planning Organization responsibility under state and federal law. As such, MTC is required to make the Fiscally Constrained Alternative the Project under CEQA. TRANSDEFs attorney will submit a letter under separate cover with further exposition of this matter. This issue is central to the value of the DEIR in the planning process, because the process should force decisionmakers to decide amongst choices actually available to them. It is legally incorrect for an RTP to be based on Big Tent revenues that are not available. That creates expectations that are impossible to fulfill. Regional transportation planning needs to be about deciding among realistically available options.
Selection of Environmentally Superior Alternative
The discussion on Environmentally Superior Alternative Amongst Alternatives Evaluated on page 3.1-36 is entirely unique amongst the many dozens of EIRs analyzed by TRANSDEF. We have never seen the phrase if all impact areas are artificially given equal weight. We believe MTC created this locution out of whole cloth for the purpose of withholding the spotlight and laurels from the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative.
The entire purpose of environmental review is to consider all impact areas. The environmentally superior alternative is the alternative that has the least negative impacts on the environment. Period. It is clear from Table 3.1-23 that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative is the environmentally superior alternative.
The only provision under CEQA for the elimination of an alternative from consideration as the environmentally superior alternative concerns the No Project Alternative. Other than that, CEQA does not allow the elimination of alternatives based on achievement of proposed project objectives at this stage of the analysis. That criterion becomes operative only at a later step, at the time of the selection of the Preferred Alternative. The preparers of the environmental document are not allowed to consider project objective achievement for the selection of environmentally superior alternative. If policymakers decide to approve a Preferred Project that is not the environmentally superior alternative, they may write a Statement of Overriding Considerations indicating that the significant unavoidable environmental impacts of a project were necessary in furtherance of other goals.
Improper Definition of No Project Alternative
As has been its practice with past RTPs, MTC has again defined the No Project Alternative to include projects that have not yet been built and are not under contract. These so-called Committed projects clearly are activit[ies] directly undertaken by any public agency... which ha[ve] a potential for resulting in ... a direct physical change in the environment. CEQA Guideline 15378(a). There is no legal authority for excluding committed projects from the build alternatives being analyzed in the RTP EIR. There is no policy justification for this position either. Its net effect is to shrink the scope of the project, making it appear that decisionmakers discretion can only have a minor impact on the future of the region. The TRANSDEF Alternative explicitly maximizes that scope.
The Impacts of Growth Require Mitigation
The EIR predicts a 40% increase in VMT between 2000 and 2030 (Table 2.1-8) yet finds no impact on the environment, and therefore, nothing to mitigate! This is preposterous. That kind of increase added to a system that is already beyond capacity is incomprehensible. Similarly, Table 2.1-13 predicts a 90% increase in freeway VMT at LOS F. Finally, Table 2.2-19 predicts a 25% increase in PM2.5 and a 35% increase in PM10. Particulates have serious human health impacts. The EIR should find that these increases beyond current conditions are themselves a transportation impact, requiring mitigation measures to reduce the impacts to the fullest extent possible. The analytic method of comparing impacts only to the No Project Alternative is profoundly flawed. The cumulative impacts of growth need to be compared to current conditions, be found to be significant, and be found to require mitigation to the fullest extent possible.
Along similar lines, the mitigation for the expansion of urban areas, Mitigation Measure 2.3(f), is much too weak and non-directive. Please include: MTC shall use its best efforts to maximize the percentage of new development completed as infill, and minimize the conversion of greenfields.
TRANSDEF is a Fiscally Constrained Alternative
During TRANSDEFs presentation of its Alternative to the Planning and Operations Committee, senior MTC staff commented that the TRANSDEF Alternative was not fiscally constrained. We beg to differ, for two independent reasons. The first, and most compelling, is that MTC staff determined that the TRANSDEF Alternative cost a net $6.2 billion less than the Fiscally Constrained Alternative plus Sales Taxes alternative ($10.4 billion savings from deleted projects minus $4.2 billion in new transit service costs; pp. D-3 & 4). Of the $5.7 billion in proposed sales taxes that appeared on the ballot last November, only Solano Countys tax proceeds need to be subtracted from that $6.2 billion. Theres plenty of money here to pay for whatever the Alternative calls for, including projects in Solano and Napa, which had been assumed to eventually pass a sales tax measure.
The only other project in the TRANSDEF Alternative whose funding could be questioned is California High Speed Rail (HSR). Because MTCs modelling was unable to predict the transit mode share for interregional trips from the Central Valley, it assigned none. The remaining intraregional ridership levels may not be all that significant, making this project a non-issue. Has staff broken out the model result for HSR?
TRANSDEF included HSR in its fiscally constrained Alternative under guidance given by Caltrans to the Fresno Council of Governments at a meeting held at District 6 headquarters in April, 2004. The COG was told to put HSR into their RTP under the assumption that the HSR project was 100% state funded, with no costs borne by local agencies. TRANSDEF believes this guidance is applicable to the Bay Area. Feasibility of the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative Various CMAs have submitted comments complaining that projects in their Countywide Transportation Plans have been excluded from the TRANSDEF Alternative. These comments probably never would have been made, had the Alternative not seriously outperformed the MTC alternative. They argue that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative is infeasible and should not be included in the EIR. They are wrong.
MTC is required to put into its RTP only those elements from local transportation plans that are consistent with the RTP. There is no requirement for MTC to adopt local plans wholesale. It is authorized to come up with a plan that is optimal for the region. Under the 1999 California Transportation Commission RTP Guidelines,
A reasonable alternative analysis should include alternatives that offer demand management and land use options combined with non-motorized/rail/bus/HOV/roadway improvements in differing configurations, all of which are compared against one another. From the identified alternatives, a ranking process, using specific criteria and environmental protectiion and stewardship values should be used to ascertain the preferred alternative. (p. 14)
MTC has never done this in the past, despite vigorous protests from TRANSDEF and its colleagues. For the first time, the 2005 RTP contains an alternative with different land use and a different transportation network. While still not fully compliant with the Guidelines (more alternatives with different policy and modal configurations are needed), this RTP constitutes a good start at looking to optimize transportation results and reduce environmental impacts. An EIR is required to consider alternatives that would avoid or reduce significant environmental effects of projects identified over the 20-year life of the RTP. 2003 Supplement to the 1999 Regional Transportation Plan Guidelines, (p. 18).
Without a real alternatives study, there can be no significant policy debates, for example, on the desirability of the dispersion of employment throughout the suburbs. There are very difficult tradeoffs faced by the Bay Area that can only be addressed from a regional perspective: congestion, public infrastructure costs, out-of-pocket commute costs, agriculture, the environment and our health.
A recent state law, Government Code § 65080.3, speaks directly to the CMAs concerns. It specifically authorizes RTPs to have an
alternative planning scenario [that] shall accommodate the same amount of population growth as projected in the plan but shall be based on an alternative that attempts to reduce the growth in traffic congestion, make more efficient use of existing transportation infrastructure, and reduce the need for costly future public infrastructure. § 65080.3(b)
As the DEIR documents, the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative unquestionably accomplishes those goals. It uses land use assumptions that approximate the Smart Growth Scenario created by the extensive public outreach of the Regional Agencies Smart Growth process. The Alternative identifies a policy direction that would be highly beneficial for the region to adopt. The same law further creates a process for developing a regional consensus around that policy direction. It requires that
The alternative planning scenario and accompanying report shall not be adopted as part of the regional transportation plan, but it shall be distributed to cities and counties within the region and to other interested parties, and may be a basis for revisions to the transportation projects that will be included in the regional transportation plan. § 65080.3(f)
The fact that the alternatives land use is not consistent with local general plans is a red herring. Projections 2003 is not consistent with local general plans, either. The purpose of regional planning, and the law cited above, is to experiment with how land use plans might be changed so as to have a more sustainable future. By evaluating alternative planning scenarios, local governments are able to learn how their plans interacts with the region as a whole, and how the future of all the residents of the region can be improved. The argument that the alternative does not meet the feasibility test under CEQA because it would require general plan amendments is wholly without merit. Feasibility has nothing to do with MTCs obvious lack of authority over land use decisions. Incentives can be created to reward jurisdictions that adopt regionally complementary planning decisions. The feasibility of funding new transit services is challenged on pages D-4 & 5 by the claim that These new lines will likely require new sources of operating funds, which would not be available in [sic] under the financially constrained element of the Proposed Project. With the multi-billion dollar surplus identified on pages D3 & 4, it is clear that there is no shortage of funds. They can be swapped with other transportation agencies that are using sales tax funds for construction projects, to convert the funds to the proper color of money.
Are the differences in travel times per trip (Table 3.1-6) statistically meaningful? Or are they within the modelling margin of error? TRANSDEF suspects that an 18 second total trip time difference between its Alternative and the Proposed Project is insignificant in terms of personal preference or of even being noticed.
Similarly, is a half minute variation in the Average Delay per Vehicle per Day significant, or is it within the margin for error? Would it be noticeable in the life of a 2030 resident?
Why are the statistics about delay repeated in the section on Daily Vehicle Trips (p. 3.1-17)? Is it because the TRANSDEF Alternative looks too good? These statistics are redundant and out-of-place.
The TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative was clearly superior in meeting transportation objectives, as measured by reduction in Daily Vehicle Trips, reduction in VMT, decrease in auto use, increase in transit use, increase in biking, increase in walking, and increased accessibility to jobs by either auto or transit, even when compared to the vastly more expensive Proposed Project. However, that is not the proper comparison, as argued in the first section of these comments. The Smart Growth Alternative is even more outstanding when compared to the Fiscally Constrained Alternative, especially for the litmus tests of Daily Vehicle Hours of Delay and VMT at LOS F. Table 3.1-23 must be revised to indicate that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative is much more favorable than the Proposed Project (as that is redefined). Much more favorable is proposed here, because of the exceptionally cost-effective increase in accessibility to jobs, both by transit and by auto.
The discussion of Community Disruption on page 3.1-23 is seriously flawed. First of all, the impacts that matter are the cumulative impacts, not the impacts of individual projects. The cumulative impacts of regional growth are definitely minimized by the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative. There are more suburban travel analysis zones that remain unchanged in population (and are therefore undisrupted) than in Projections 2003. Infill development is targeted at failed malls and strip centers, where no one is living, therefore avoiding disruption. There are many fewer open space acres urbanized, eliminating large cumulative visual impacts, habitat loss and agricultural land loss. The impacts of the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative should be re-evaluated on page 3.1-23, and for Table 3.1-23 as well. In Table 3.1-16, the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative has the lowest amount of lane miles with a 3 db increase in noise since 2000. This is not only a better indicator of cumulative impacts to human observers than the number of lane miles over 66 dBA, but is more consistent with the significance criteria proposed for the Noise section. The Table 3.1-23 entry for noise should be reconsidered.
The discussion of Geology and Seismicity asserts that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative excluded projects that would benefit seismic safety. As a policy matter, the Smart Growth Alternative included all proposed safety projects. Please identify specifically what is meant here, and what retrofits in the Proposed Project cause it to have the least seismic safety hazards of all alternatives. Please clarify the conflict between the text on page 3.1-30, which selects the No Project and TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternatives as superior for impacts on soil resources, the Proposed Project for seismic safety and Table 3.1-23, which selects the Fiscally Constrained Alternative as superior for both.
The discussion of growth inducement is confused:
From the perspective of a jobs/housing balance and the growth-inducing impacts that imbalances may create, the residential land use assumptions made for the TRANSDEF Smart Growth alternative appear to exacerbate imbalances at the subregional level because they are not accompanied by development of employment opportunities. (p. 3.1-34)
This statement is inconsistent with the transportation impact analysis that determined that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative succeeded in increasing accessibility to jobs precisely because of redistributing regional growth. Having substantially more jobs within reach cant possibly be an indication of a jobs/housing imbalance problem:
Amongst the alternatives, the TRANSDEF Smart Growth alternative results in the greatest improvement in job access by auto and transit (e.g., for jobs within 45 minutes ...) compared to the Proposed Project. This improvement in accessibility to jobs is due to the approach taken by TRANSDEF to redistribute regional growth and further intensify new development densities beyond ABAGs Projections 2003. (p. 3.1-13)
Furthermore, another part of the analysis suggests that strategies like the TRANSDEF alternative might do even more than the Proposed Project in deterring regional growth inducement outside of urban areas:
In some areas, improved transit might be one factor facilitating urban infill development and improving jobs/housing balance, and to the extent that occurs, the Transportation 2030 Plan could support infill development or urban redevelopment. Improving the jobs/housing balance in turn acts as a deterrent to urban sprawl and regional growth inducement outside of urban areas. (p. 2.11-10)
Please review these citations and consider revising the analysis on page 3.1-34.
The Equity Analysis Report failed to provide an Alternatives Analysis. Inexplicably, the Report stated
First a comparison can be made among all the Transportation 2030 alternatives, looking to see which alternative provides the greatest benefit to communities of concern and the remainder of the Bay Area. Second, comparisons can be made between communities of concern and the remainder of the Bay Area to see whether communities of concern share equitably in the benefits associated with each of the alternatives without bearing a disproportionate share of the burdens. Each measurement below focuses on the second comparison.... (p. 5-1)
Why was the comparison not made? Was this omission intended to avoid crediting the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative as the alternative providing the greatest benefits for communities of concern and the remainder of the Bay Area?
Modelling Assumptions: Gas Prices, Bridge Tolls
There were several problems caused by the models limitations that need to be explained in print. The model was unable to develop interregional transit trip numbers, due to the absence of data. The FEIR needs to state that the Smart Growth Alternative overestimates the auto volumes coming into the region, and into Silicon Valley, due to the models limitation of not being able to predict interregional transit trips.
Similarly, because the model cannot represent parking cash-out (the financial benefit to the employee not using free parking), as a surrogate this pricing mechanism was modelled as a parking charge. The problem is that this charge showed up in the text, described as an average increased cost of driving, and was also used in analyzing user benefits for the Equity Analysis. The FEIR needs to correct the misstatements, and, if possible, in its calculations, show the parking cash-out benefit as income to transit, bike riders, pedestrians and (with a share of the benefit) carpoolers.
This error shows up on page 3.1-7 as an alleged 15.4% increase in driving costs, and a claim that transit users are benefitted while auto drivers pay more. Where the user benefit analysis now shows the TRANSDEF Alternative with nearly three times the benefits of the Fiscally Constrained Alternative for communities of concern, it is nearly even with the Project benefits for the remainder of Bay Area communities. That should change dramatically if the driving cost is corrected.
Some of the assumptions used in modelling were questionable. Transit fares were projected to increase at the rate of inflation, while bridge tolls remain flat through the Plan period. This introduces a systematic bias, where transit becomes relatively more expensive than driving, over time. Because it skews the results away from transit mode share, it must be corrected, and the model re-run.
We could not find the assumption for gas prices in the DEIR, but note that the assumption in the Conformity Analysis, which must use the same assumptions, is for gas prices that rise with an assumed constant inflation factor that could not be located. The Analysis has the curious statement that However, the gas prices are higher than we assumed. This indication of the volatility of gas prices points to the likelihood of underestimating the cost of gas. An article (attached herein) from the December 29, 2004 San Francisco Chronicle details the influences of global politics and economics on the price of gasoline. It is highly likely that, on the basis of the facts stated in the article, that the RTP assumptions for gas prices will severely underestimate future costs, thereby creating inaccurate predictions as to future mode splits and demand for transit. This can only be resolved by running the model again with a much higher gas price, to see how much the operation of the regional system is affected.
The Proposed Project had half the Average Weekday Daily Vehicle Hours of Delay of the Fiscally Constrained Alternatives in Marin County. Is this because of Project 21030, I-580/U.S. 101 interchange improvements and new freeway-to-freeway connector from westbound I-580 to northbound and southbound U.S. 101? If so, the inclusion of this project is problematic. Extensive discussions about this connector have led to the conclusion amongst many that bringing two lanes from 580 into 101 northbound (or southbound) would completely overload the facility. The current one lane configuration acts as a mainline meter, preventing an already saturated freeway from breaking down completely.
MTC should be doing modelling with a horizon 50 years in the future. That is the state of the art. The changes between the alternatives analyzed here would be most evident 40 years out. A 25 year horizon ignores the fact that society has to continue after that.
3.1-4: Projections 2003 was influenced by the Smart Growth Project, but most definitely does not represent its outcome. It accomplishes roughly half the goal of preventing further incommuting from the Central Valley.
Suggested Text Changes
The work of TRANSDEF in creating the Smart Growth Alternative should be credited in the FEIR either as a source in the bibliography, preferably as the website Transdef.org or as part of the preparers consultant team.
[Additions or corrections are in italics]
3.1-4: Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)
3.1-7: Please clarify how the dollars cited for costs compare with current year dollars.
3.1-11: Insert new. Notably, the TRANSDEF Smart Growth alternative reduces new freeway HOV lane miles by 50% compared to the Proposed Project.
D-1: Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)
D-1: The sentence However, TRANSDEF reduces the total residential land use by ... fails to clearly convey that land is actually being saved. Please change it to However, TRANSDEF reduces the total land area developed for residential
land use by ...
D-1: (greater than 20,000 persons per square mile)
D-2: To be consistent with the materials TRANSDEF provided the consultant team, please add: TRANSDEF believes that MTC has a role in accomplishing these land use changes by withholding certain federal and state discretionary funds from local jurisdictions that do not make the necessary revisions to their local plans, and providing other discretionary funds as incentives to jurisdictions that revise their local plans to complement the region.
D-3: Transit projects should include New Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) for the East Contra Costa County (Delta Corridor), Sonoma-Marin (SMART) and Vallejo-Napa.
D-4: Change will to to in the first sentence of Pricing Programs.
D-5: A line of description apparently got lost: Rapid buses run along revitalized transit arterials through most of the Peninsula cities.
D-5: ...buses will have more doors, to make loading and unloading faster.
D-6: Similarly, the end of this sentence was lost: Stockton Street in Chinatown is given over exclusively to delivery vehicles and transit service.
The table on page D-8 appears to contain a series of errors. We are unable to find any documentation that the RM 2 Bay Area Region projects were excluded by TRANSDEF. Please verify that these projects were transmitted to TRANSDEF and selected by us for exclusion.
The maps in Appendix D are very difficult to read. This is partly a function of a color scheme, where data ranges are not distinguished well from each other because the colors are overly similar, and partly a function of too many data levels. A simple 3 level map would be more communicative (especially for the regional map), where white denotes a band of values that do not change much (e.g., for density maps, this might cover the range from -10 to +10). Another color would indicate an increase in density beyond that base level, and the third sharply contrasting one would indicate a decrease.
Figure D.2-3 should be Comparison of Employment Density-2030"
The TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative produced better results across the board: it is the Environmentally Superior Alternative; the least expensive alternative; and it is the fiscally constrained alternative with the best transportation results and the most user benefits for both low income communities and for the general public. These results are striking enough to warrant MTC incorporating as many elements as possible into the Final RTP. This could constitute a commitment to create incentives up to the task of moving the region beyond the cautious Projections 2003 to fully implement the Regional Agencies Smart Growth Strategy. Pricing programs could provide near-term benefits to transportation: encouraging local jurisdictions to offer re-use entitlements on surplus parking areas in exchange for commitments to permanent parking cash-out, as a method of introducing pricing to the commute trip. The other key program would be encouraging local jurisdictions to require Ecopass programs for new housing being built near transit, as mitigation for lower parking ratios and traffic generation.
These low-cost educational programs were demonstrated by this DEIR to have great potential in reducing congestion and VMT. The other major elements of the Alternative were the use of cost-effective transit and ending highway widening as a reasonable response to congestion. Clearly, these will require MTC to engage in the building of a consensus for a profound change to the bedrock principles of transportation planning in the Bay Area. By fairly evaluating the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative, implementing as much of it as possible, and circulating a report to local jurisdictions on its benefits, as required by Govt Code § 65080.3(f), MTC can do its part on behalf of the residents of the region to plan for a better future.
TRANSDEF is appreciative of MTCs cooperation in analyzing the Smart Growth Alternative, and stands ready to assist as needed.
/s/ David Schonbrunn
David Schonbrunn, President