Transportation: Firms Could Be Required to Change Office Hours
San Diego is grappling with the addition of a million new people and half a million new jobs over the next 20 years , specifically, what effect that will have on the region’s transportation system.
Now the San Diego Association of Governments has an answer, but it may involve tax increases and a mandate to businesses to change working hours.
Sandag board members heard from supporters and opponents of the Regional Transportation Plan when it discussed the issue after more than two hours of public testimony Jan. 28. The plan seeks to address the future needs of highways, buses and rail in the county.
But the plan comes with a hefty price tag , $29 billion over the next 20 years. Since the county has only $17 billion in available funds, the remaining $12 billion may come from potential tax increases, such as a gas tax.
Another possibility is continuing the TransNet tax , an extra half-cent sales tax for transportation, scheduled to expire in 2008.
Sandag hopes to adopt the plan at its Feb. 25 meeting. The plan will spend $10.39 billion on building new highways, widening already existing highways, and adding car pool lanes to other highways.
Mass transit would also benefit, with $9.66 billion for expanded light rail service, improved Coaster service and “transitways” , dedicated paths to accommodate luxury transit buses as an incentive to get commuters out of their cars.
An additional $9.4 billion for local roads brings the total to $29.45 billion. Sandag is also looking at a more modest version of the proposal, in case the additional $12 billion in additional taxes falls through.
Changes In Land Use
The plan would also seek to alleviate road congestion by changing land use. That would concentrate growth in already existing areas, while also supporting public transit, said Lee Hultgren, transportation director for Sandag.
Other strategies include adopting new technologies and better management to increase the capacity of the current highway system, while also decreasing the demand on the system by spreading things around , encouraging local employers to change their workday schedules so commuters would not all be using the freeway at the same time.
All told, these elements of the plan are expected to cut freeway bottlenecks and traffic jams in half over the next 20 years, even as the area is flooded with additional residents and jobs, Hultgren said.
Others disagreed. Environmental activist Carolyn Chase said the plan would lead to further congestion.
“Without more support for better alternatives, [Sandag] will take advantage of the public’s understandable frustration with traffic to push a $12 billion tax increase for the same policies and processes that have us stuck in congestion right now,” she said.
Opposed By Taxpayers Association
Scott Barnett, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, echoed that sentiment.
“SDCTA believes that adoption of the RTP will not result in any significant reduction of regional and local traffic congestion. The proposed RTP relies on using essentially the same practices and principles that to date has resulted in greater congestion of our local freeways and roads,” Barnett said.
The tax group could not support the RTP unless it incorporated a few additional guiding principles, Barnett said.
Barnett cited an earlier move by Sandag, in which it recently approved funds for a parking garage for San Diego State University, but only under the condition that it push some classes back earlier in the morning. With more classes starting at 7 a.m., rather than 8 a.m., that will help reduce traffic congestion during peak periods, he said.
Something similar may need to happen with other traffic producers. Rather than simply inviting employers to change their schedules, it should become mandatory, Barnett said.
Barnett also suggested municipalities should be required to spend a greater portion of their transportation funds on projects serving regional, rather than local needs. Jurisdictions that do not cooperate should have their funding reduced.
Barnett also asked the board to come up with a better way to define congestion.
“Does anyone here understand what the definition of congestion is, as it’s used?” Barnett asked the crowded room. “We believe that as policy makers, you need to understand what it means, and what the impact is. Essentially, how long it takes to drive, say, from Oceanside to San Diego in peak commuting time vs. taking the Coaster from Oceanside to San Diego. Examples the public and policy makers can understand.”
Other ideas include establishing transit-oriented zoning around regional transportation projects, creating a “veto authority” for projects violating regional planning priorities, along with cost-benefit analyses of transportation options and implementing state Sen. Steve Peace’s proposed Regional Infrastructure Transportation Authority to oversee local planning.The Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce announced its support of the plan , along with continuing the TransNet sales tax. TransNet has gone a long way toward alleviating highway congestion, said Angelika Villagrana, public policy director for the chamber.
“The passage of the TransNet sales tax is really important to this region. We have accomplished a lot with this funding source, and we have to make sure that it continues,” she said.
Still other speakers lobbied Sandag for further consideration of local highways. A spokesman for county Supervisor Dianne Jacob complained funding for widening Highway 67 was not included in the RTP. He urged that it be restored to the plan.
Sandag staff will respond to the comments taken at the public hearing, along with about 1,000 written comments submitted before the Jan. 28 deadline. Each comment, along with the staff response, will be considered for the final draft of the plan, said Sandag spokesman Garry Bonelli.
“You’ll be able to see the verbatim comments of the folks, and staff’s response to those. Over the next 30 days, The board will consider the plan itself, the public’s comments, the staff’s responses to them, (and) how they want to tweak the plan , in any way they want,” he said.
Any changes to the draft plan would be inspired by the comments Sandag received from the public, said Sandag Deputy Director Bob Parrott.
“What we’ll be doing before our February meeting is we’ll be writing up a response to the over 1,000 comments we received. And from those comments and responses, we’ll write up our recommended changes to the draft Regional Transportation Plan, and we’ll bring both the responses and the recommended changes to the board at the Feb. 25 meeting,” he said.
The challenge facing the board is to balance some sharply contrasting needs when it seeks to adopt the plan , all with limited funds, said Sandag Vice Chairwoman Ramona Finnila.
“Some people would say they wanted more transit over more roads. Other comments suggested we have more roads and forget transit; it doesn’t work,” she said. “Everything is a huge priority in this region. But some things we can do with the money and some things we can’t.”
The board will review all public comments and hold them up to what is in the draft. The Sandag board will then look at where to go from there, Finnila said.
If all goes well, the plan will be adopted at the next Sandag meeting Feb. 25, with changes and additions based on public comment. Also, the environmental impact report will be adopted, along with the air quality conformity plan. The plan will then be submitted to state and federal agencies for approval.
The deadline for submitting the plan is April 29, Hultgren said.