Schwarzenegger Long on Fiscal Stimulus Rhetoric, Short on Transit Specifics

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Governor Schwarzenegger sent a letter Tuesday to President-elect Obama encouraging massive expenditure in the federal stimulus package on a host of projects in California.  The letter comes a month after the governor and president-elect discussed the stimulus package in person:

When we met, I had identified $28 billion in infrastructure projects ready to break ground in California within the first 120 days of your administration.  I am writing to report that we now have nearly $44 billion in projects that are ready to start construction or place orders.

Schwarzenegger proposes spending $11 billion
of the $44 billion "in investment in road, transit and rail construction."  But when
pressed for a detailed project list, the governor’s press office refused to elaborate and punted to regional officials.

The Municipal Transporation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area’s transportation planning and federal fiscal conduit, was only slightly more forthcoming with specifics.  While the MTC confirmed it has a long list of projects, it would not elaborate on the specifics for fear the public would view the project wish list as a
slate of promises.

MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler was clear most of the projects that could be built within 90-120 days
of Obama’s inauguration would be road maintenance repairs that would
not significantly alter the long-term strategic vision for the region

"We could dig holes in the desert and they might contribute
to the economic recovery," he said.  "But then you’ve got holes in the
desert."

Bay_Bridge_Construction.jpgWill the fiscal stimulus plan be a bridge to the future, or a bridge to nowhere?

What really needs to be done, he argued, are projects similar to the scope and vision of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge.

"We can set the tone for transportation spending with the stimulus package, but the real debate will happen with the re-authorization of the transportation act" later this year, said Rentschler.

According to the MTC, the specific proposals for funding fall in three general categories, in no particular order:

  1. Maintenance of local streets and roads
  2. Investment and maintenance of the region’s transit system
  3. Investment in new transit and roadway projects (examples cited: bus-priority signalization and metering lights on freeways)

In lieu of official project documentation, Streetsblog San Francisco compiled a list of transit and street infrastructure projects (download the PDF) from the Bay Area cities associated with the Mainstreet Economic Recovery report, a project of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.  It adds up to $1.6 billion and more than 14,000 jobs.

Though some cities like Santa Clara and Fremont are not part of the Conference of Mayors, most of the big-ticket Bay Area transit items are included in the list, including funding for the new Transbay Terminal, MTA’s Transit Effectiveness Program (TEP), BART to San Jose, and the electrification of Caltrain. 

Flickr Photos by: WarzauWynn and planetlight.

  • The list of proposed transit and street infrastructure projects (see the pdf link in the article) is rather disturbing. The only things that will go towards improving transit (instead of just maintaining it) in San Francisco appear to be the Transbay Highspeed Rail Terminus and the traffic signal controllers, though my guess is that the bulk of the signal controller money is to simply replace the controllers so that the city can funnel more cars through the city. So far all of the Transit Signal Priority (TSP) projects in the city have been a pathetic. Take a trip on the T-line down third street or the F-line on the Embarcadero to see how while a priority system has been installed it actually isn’t giving the crowded streetcars priority. What is the point of spending money on such a project when it won’t even be adequately used??? And I’m not saying TSP is bad. It works great in LA for their BRT. My issue is that installing hardware doesn’t do any good if it is prevented from fulfilling its purpose by the traffic engineers.

    And then check out the proposed projects for San Leandro, San Jose, etc. Mostly freeway work and parking garages. Yikes!

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