It may not have been a giant leap, but there were definitely a few steps forward on Plan Bay Area last week. Last Friday, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) staff presented a summary of key issues that arose during the public comment period, and preliminary recommendations for addressing these issues. This joint meeting of MTC/ABAG committees took up the draft plan to provide staff with their input. While there were definitely some disappointments, we also saw some forward progress at the meeting.
Overall, the committees chose mainly to accept staff recommendations, devoting lots of their time to discussing whether to include an additional $3.1 billion in anticipated revenues from the state’s new cap-and-trade climate program, and how the money should be spent. (Those revenues won’t be arriving in the next year, however, as the state budget approved last week loans the funds away.)
While it remains unclear how much the draft plan will change before final adoption, the upside is that some of the staff recommendations reflected some of the many comments they received on four of the key issues that TransForm and our allies have been focusing on. Thanks to hundreds of Bay Area residents weighing in (both in person and through tons of written comments), here’s where we stand on our priorities:
- Express Lane Network
- What we want: Ensure MTC’s Express Lanes expand transportation choices, mitigate impacts on low-income commuters, and optimize use of existing highways without building new lanes.
- Progress: Staff recommended, and the committees supported, studying the conversion of general-purpose highway lanes to express lanes as an alternative to new construction. These findings would guide future HOT lane implementation.
- Disappointment: Staff recommendations were silent on studying whether the impacts and use of toll revenues would be equitable.
- What still needs to happen:
- In the final plan, adopt the staff recommendation to study lane conversion.
- MTC should commit to a study of the distribution of benefits by income, including differential use of network by income and ethnicity, and, furthermore, express lane monitoring may shed light on the actual distribution once the HOT lanes are in use. MTC should also develop a plan to mitigate inequitable distribution of benefits based on these findings.
- MTC should also commit at least 50% of toll revenues from the express lanes to fund transportation choices, such as express bus service along HOT corridors.
- What we want: Strengthen the OneBayArea Grant program to better incentivize local anti-displacement and affordable housing policies. Fund mitigations, such as land banking and housing rehab.
- Progress: Staff recommended, and the committees supported, including these policies to reduce displacement as criteria in the next round of OneBayArea Grant funding decisions.
- What still needs to happen: Incorporate these changes into the final plan.
- Affordable Housing Distribution
- What we want: Plan for sufficient housing affordable to low-wage workers in all infill locations with access to jobs or transit.
- Disappointment: Staff did not recommend shifting affordable housing units to high-opportunity areas.
- Progress: However, staff recommended allocating $600 million from cap-and-trade funds to a regional affordable housing production and preservation.
- What still needs to happen: Incorporate these changes into the final plan. MTC must advocate for and secure cap-and-trade funds.
- Public Transportation
- What we want: Substantially increase funding for transit operations and institute a regional youth bus pass.
- Progress: Staff recommended allocating $2.5 billion from cap-and-trade funds for transit operations and capital rehab/replacement, plus local streets and roads.
- What still needs to happen: Officially include these changes in the final plan. MTC must advocate for and secure cap-and-trade funds.
With less than a month before regional leaders are scheduled to approve the final Plan Bay Area, it’s heartening to see a shift in the right direction on the issues that matter most to TransForm and our allies. But as noted above, we’ve still got a few more steps to take – and we need your help!
Please, urge the MTC and ABAG directors to ensure that our region goes the full distance for an equitable and sustainable future.