Regional Alliance For Transit
Founded 1992

1000 Union Street
Suite 207
San Francisco, CA 94133
Telephone: 415 440–6895
email: raft@arch21.org

July 3, 2008

Bill Dodd
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
101 Eighth Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Re: The 2035 Regional Transportation Plan currently under development

Dear Chairman Dodd:

We are encouraged that MTC is “rethinking investment choices in the face of growing concerns about climate change,” as it produces the next long–range Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for the Bay Area.

RAFT has extensive experience with the development of each of MTC’s long–range plans, from 1994 to the present. Our members are convinced the plan now under development could make a meaningful contribution toward the 25% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020 required by AB 32—but only with broad changes.

Reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) over the life of the plan, now one of the Commission’s stated goals, is critically important, and will not be easy. Both our 1994 RTP Alternative, and the 2005 Transdef RTP Alternative (assisted by RAFT), would have produced lower VMT than the RTPs which were proposed by staff and adopted by MTC in those years. The 1994 RAFT Alternative plan would have cost the same amount of money as MTC’s plan, and the 2005 Transdef/RAFT plan would have spent less.

There are lessons from our alternative plans that we think MTC ought to consider as it assembles the 2009 RTP.

First, evaluate the holdover roads and transit projects from past RTPs for their agreement with the new regional transportation policies and the new State goals in AB 32. Rescind projects that do not meet these new standards, using their funds for projects geared to reducing VMT and GHG emissions. Staff recently announced that all but $30 billion of the $222 billion in State and federal transportation grants coming into the Bay Region in the next 25 years was “already committed to ongoing projects” and therefore “off the table”. That enormously reduces the discretion available to the current RTP. There are projects in the backlog that will not help reduce VMT, and should be dropped from the 2009 plan. The Fourth Bore of the Caldecott Tunnel, and the Central Subway in San Francisco, are examples of extremely expensive projects that will not reduce VMT, and therefore nor have an impact on climate change. BART to San Jose is cost ineffective and will add to the rehabilitation and operating burdens of the Santa Clara transit operator. The elevated connection between BART and the Oakland Airport could be handled by a surface BRT line along Hegenberger Road for greatly reduced cost. A large number of the proposed highway “improvements” now in the funding pipeline will serve only to encourage more driving.

In revisiting old projects as well as considering new ones, MTC should take a stronger hand and a more analytical and regional outlook dealing with the local and county proposals which it collects. This has been its core mandate since the Legislature established the Commission in 1971. For instance, a genuinely regional project, such as the major nexus of transportation services that will be created when Caltrain, BART, Muni, and the westbay and transbay buslines come together at the new Transbay terminal should have the strong MTC support that it merits, even if its immediate locality does not appreciate its full value.

The climate problem is real, and the new project standards are better standards than the old ones under which MTC accepted many of the projects in its backlog. The old portfolio should not be immune from review, and its large amount of funding ought to be available for projects and programs that will produce cost effective results under the new, more valid standards. The contradiction between MTC’s forward–looking new policies and its long list of counterproductive holdover projects should be addressed and resolved, no longer excluding old funding from current allocation.

Second, look back at large projects from the 1994 RTP for lessons. Consider the BART extension to Millbrae. Why has it performed poorly? How much was spent to build the now little–used “wye” near Millbrae and San Francisco Airport? Has the BART extension hurt samTrans’ bus service and financial equilibrium? Did this costly fixed guideway to the airport, the Commission’s top priority project for many years, reduce VMT?

Third, make transit a truly attractive alternative to the automobile. This may mean spending less money on building expensive new capital projects and instead more on running high quality bus service more frequently. Close the many gaps in the current network of trains and buses. Shortfalls in transit capital or operating needs ought to be met, unless the transit service proposed is cost–ineffective. The TransLink fare payment scheme may be an example of this.

Fourth, tie transit improvements to land use efficiencies. A very expensive railroad to the far suburban fringe, such as the proposal to reach eastern Contra Costa County, is not an optimal investment in this light. Opposite to that, the new draft plan from the Air Resources Board to implement AB 32 “encourages improvements to the way we grow and build our communities to make more livable, walkable cities, and shorten commutes.”

Fifth, stop building new highway lanes, which do not really solve either congestion or climate change issues. Los Angeles tells us where highway lanes lead. Instead, spend more of the funds under your stewardship on transit improvements and on repairing existing highways, which need a lot of work.

RAFT is encouraged that the Commission is participating in planning with the other regional agencies in the Joint Policy Committee. We hope that MTC will be vigorously responsive to the other members’ concerns about climate change, especially those of the Air Quality District.

In addition to the need for the MTC to address global warming, a future without inexpensive fossil gasoline is clearly emerging right now. This RTP will have important long–term effects. It is an opportunity for MTC to shape and advance a vision of a vibrant, humane and healthy Bay Area in new circumstances.

Much work needs to be done. The Commission’s ability to decide which transportation programs receive funding, and when they get it, means that the many issues pertaining to climate change and VMT reduction are squarely before the MTC. This RTP is an opportunity to accomplish a great deal to make our region a better place to live.


M. Kiesling
for RAFT