Well, that was an exciting meeting!
This past Friday's MTC Planning Committee meeting wrapped up with a choice for Option 2 in the "committed projects" policy debate.
"Committed projects" are those transportation projects in the regional funding and construction pipeline that MTC designates exempt from analysis or Commission discretion during the once-every-four-years Regional Transportation Plan process. Option 1 exempts more projects from analysis; Option 2 exempts fewer.
The Planning Committee’s recommendation for Option 2 will now move to the full Commission on April 27th.
Planning Committee members had an insightful discussion that explored the pros and cons of running cost-benefit and performance analyses even on projects that have made their way through lengthy and costly EIR processes.
One of the points that seemed to sway Commssioners toward Option 2 was made by both public comment and staff that the decision at hand was just about how many projects get evaluated—not a death penalty vote for projects. The performance assessment later this year will estimate projects’ costs vs. benefits and show how well projects promote the region’s targets. Commissioners can then fold that information into their whole policy-making process.
MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said his attitude on committed projects had shifted when he looked at data MTC staff pulled together on the cost increases many projects have experienced after environmental review. He and others also cited last year’s debate about the Oakland Airport Connector, recognizing that the region needs a way to re-assess projects whose scope and cost has changed significantly since they received environmental review.
In the end, a majority of Commissioners recognized that this decision could conceivably put some sunk costs at risk but decided that it would be better to do the region’s once-every-four-years planning process with more information rather than less.
What we found really exciting about the vote was that it really was a vote of conscience, a demonstration of a commitment by our elected officials to do good, thoughtful work with our public dollars. Bay Area transportation dollars are truly hard-won at this point. And policies change. A vote to analyze more of our region’s investment portfolio every four years will helpmaximize our potential to meet the ambitions environmental, equity, health and economic goals we have set for the Sustainable Communities Strategy.
We thank MTC staff for putting options on the table. And we thank Commissioners Jake Mackenzie, Sam Liccardo, Kevin Mullin, John Rubin, and Adrienne Tissier for voting to get the information the region needs to make good decisions. The public thanks you.
Now the debate moves to the full Commission, which will consider the policy at its April 27th meeting.