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Business leaders concerned about transportation funding split

By Erica Holt and Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service

December 1, 2006

As Bay Area counties fight for a piece of the billions in bottleneck-breaking proposition 1B money now up for grabs for corridor congestion relief projects, many local transportation leaders are worried the state agency charged with appropriating the funds could stiff the traffic-crammed nine-county region out of its share.

Just over 61 percent of California voters approved the $20 billion transportation bond on Nov. 7. In the coming months, $4.5 billion of it will become available as written in the measure for near-ready local projects such as lane additions and interchange enhancements. Transportation officials are already calling the new "Corridor Mobility Improvement Account'' by its shorthand, CMIA.

At issue is how the nine-member, governor-appointed California Transportation Commission plans to choose local projects and divvy up the CMIA cash.

"I want to make absolutely sure that the Bay Area gets our fair share of the money that was sold to the voters as being used to relieve congestion," said Jim Wonderman, the president and chief executive of the San Francisco-based Bay Area Council.

Wonderman, whose group represents more than 275 major employers in the Bay, said one problem for the Bay Area is that Northern California will only get 40 percent of the $4.5 billion, with 60 percent going to Southern California.

However, that "60/40" formula is required by the bond. The California Transportation Commission must allocate CMIA funds based on the historic northern/southern state spilt, said its executive director, John Barna.

But Wonderman said he's also concerned that the CTC, which will oversee much of the proposition 1B spending, adopted guidelines on Nov. 8, the day after the election, that rely solely on population and an "outdated" California highway system.

The result is that the targets propose to allocate 50 percent of Northern California's CMIA share to regions that face less congestion than the Bay Area, Wonderman said.

Wonderman said the Bay Area has 83 percent of Northern California's traffic congestion but is only targeted for 34 percent of Northern California's CMIA funds, using figures from Caltrans' Highway Congestion Monitoring Program and the Nov. 8 CTC guidelines.

Barna said he's addressed Wonderman's concerns.

"Until we see the projects, it's hard for us to make any assumption about level of funding,'' he said.

The Nov. 8 proposals are just guidelines and nothing is set in stone, he added.

Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, echoed some of Wonderman's concerns. Along with Caltrans, Rentschler's commission will be nominating local projects to the CTC. He worries that the state commission's guidelines stray from the bottleneck focus required by the bond and could be interpreted to include a variety of highway projects deemed worthy.

"If the voters had passed the state highways completion act,'' that would be one thing, he added. "But they didn't. They passed a congestion relief act.''

But David Brewer, CTC chief deputy director, points out that "we're not distributing the funding through the guidelines,'' but rather by a variety of factors including required project descriptions, data on accident rates, average daily traffic rates, and costs and length of construction.

CMIA will not be formula driven, Barna said. The commission will work within the delicate balance set forth by the proposition, including geographic distribution and the 60/40 split, as well as targeting congestion in traffic corridors.

"The MTC needs to show us the projects,''Brewer said. But he also warned: "You don't get money if you don't have an effective solution."

Brewer said with all else equal, the sooner a project is ready to go, the more likely it will be approved.

The regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrans must nominate Bay Area projects to the state Transportation Commission for funding by Jan. 16. The CTC is scheduled to adopt a program of projects by March 1.

Wonderman remains concerned that the process by which the Bay Area's projects get approved is moving fast, and there's a lot at stake.

"The Bay Area is engaged in serious global economic competition and one of our major challenges is transportation infrastructure," Wonderman said.

"A lot of these decisions haven't been made yet," Rentschler said.

"There is a long way to go here." "When we see these types of things in the guidelines, we're going to take our time to talk about it," he said.

Wonderman's concerns surfaced in a Nov. 22 letter he wrote to Gov. Schwarzenegger, State Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and other top state and transportation officials.

In his letter, Wonderman said the CTC's guidelines "have set an unfortunate and inappropriate course that diverges from the one adopted by the state Legislature and the Governor and resoundingly approved by California voters" because they aren't aimed enough at reducing traffic congestion.

"We're still very early in this game," Rentschler said. "We'll do the best we can to maximize what comes into the Bay Area.'' "I think the Bay Area will find that it will do quite well in CMIA,'' Barna said.

The state commission meets on Feb. 28 to discuss the proposals from individual agencies.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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