In the Bay Area, countywide transportation agencies wield significant power over the use of billions of dollars in transportation funding. These “Congestion Management Agencies,” or CMAs, have influence not only within their individual counties but across the nine-county region. Their decisions affect the availability, quality and cost of the transit service that low-income families, youth and seniors depend on. They also shape the location of development and whether it benefits or harms these families.
Yet many of these agencies function with minimal accountability and little transparency. Public Advocates and our allies are working to change that.
The power of the CMAs extends to:
- The adoption of long-range countywide transportation plans (CTPs) that are the primary basis for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) adopted every four years by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).
- Direct control over “county shares” of over $100 million in the biennial Regional Transportation Improvement Program (RTIP).
- Shaping local transportation sales tax measures and their associated expenditure plans, accounting for tens of billions of dollars in the current RTP, called Plan Bay Area.
- Implementing regional programs of great importance to low-income communities of color, including MTC’s Lifeline Transportation Program and the new One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) program.
Our ultimate aim is to enable a broader range of affected stakeholders to begin engaging in the important CMA decisions and ensuring that their priority needs for improved local transit service and affordable housing near transit are met. To advance this goal, we are analyzing the legal requirements governing CMAs and reviewing their major planning documents. The purpose of our review is to identify legal compliance issues, policy best practices, and obstacles and opportunities for greater accountability, transparency and inclusiveness.
Some of our initial findings:
- Short-range CMA Plans Prioritize Roads and Highways Over Public Transit: MTC adopted its 2014 RTIP in December 2013, based on the short-range “Congestion Management Programs” of the CMAs. More than two-thirds of the $132 million in new programming will go to highways (58 percent) and local streets and roads (8 percent), while only 25 percent will go to transit (most of it to build BART to San Jose and San Francisco’s Central Subway). In particular, two large counties will be putting virtually their entire county shares into freeway projects: Contra Costa ($36.6 million to widen SR 4) and San Mateo ($20.4 million to reconstruct an interchange on highway 101).
- Long-range CMA Plans Are Out-Dated: Government Code section 66531(a) states that these plans should be updated “every two years,” but that has not been the practice. Several of the current long-range CTPs on the CMA websites appeared to be so old as to pre-date SB 375. The oldest appeared to be those of San Mateo (2001) and Marin (2003). Only two of the nine had been adopted post-2009 (Alameda, 2012; San Francisco, 2013).
- Required MTC Guidelines for Long-Range CMA Plans Did Not Exist:One important way in which MTC is required to exert regional supervision over the CMAs is by promulgating guidelines governing CTPs. A 1995 statute requires MTC to adopt guidelines to be used by CMAs in the preparation of their CTPs. MTC last updated its guidelines in 2000 and has not used them since 2001.
MTC’s failure to adopt effective and current CMA guidelines led us to file litigation which, in turn, led MTC to launch a six-month process to adopt new guidelines. MTC adopted those updated guidelines on September 24, 2014, incorporating many of the recommendations we and our partners made. This was a major victory for low-income communities of color, and for the entire Bay Area, with many significant impacts:
- The adoption of guidelines that are consistent with SB 375 now makes it much more likely that MTC’s next RTP, built on the foundation of newly-updated CTPs, will achieve greater greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions and better meet the policy objectives of SB 375 and other state and federal requirements.
- The adoption of guidelines that are consistent with Plan Bay Area makes it much more likely that the next RTP will better achieve Plan Bay Area’s important regional goals and performance measures, with impacts ranging from air quality to public health to mobility and beyond.
- The adoption of the guidelines has spurred several county agencies to commence or complete long-delayed updates to their CTPs, which are important not only because of the foundational role they play in the regional plan but also because they establish priorities and guide the expenditure of large sums of public funding in the individual counties.
- The adoption of the guidelines has now brought the weight of MTC’s considerable persuasive authority behind an expectation that these county agencies that have, in many instances, been opaque to public engagement, will “implement a broad and open public participation process that includes [u]nder-represented interests and communities” and that “[d]ocument[s] the local public engagement process, emphasizing how the needs of minority, low-income, and other disadvantaged communities have been considered.” (Guidelines, p. 3.)
- Similarly, it establishes an expectation that county agencies will promote the region’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by “conduct[ing] an equity analysis with input from the public … with a focus on minority, low-income, and other underserved communities.” (Guidelines, pp. 7-8.)
- Yet another important public benefit is MTC’s resolution “that the CTP guidelines should be updated following RTP/SCS adoption” (Guidelines, p. 8) on a regular basis, averting the risk of future gaps like the one the Bay Area experienced over the past dozen or so years.