County transportation authority encourages public feedback for five-year plan 

The need for Caltrain to increase its capacity due to having packed trains during peak hours is one issue that could be addressed as part of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority's five-year strategic plan. - JEFF CHIU/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Jeff Chiu/AP File photo
  • The need for Caltrain to increase its capacity due to having packed trains during peak hours is one issue that could be addressed as part of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority's five-year strategic plan.

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority is crafting its new five-year strategic plan and wants to hear from Peninsula residents about the transit and infrastructure issues most important to them.

The agency is responsible for administering Measure A funds, which come from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters and earmarked for transportation programs and projects across the county. In a series of town hall-style meetings this month, the agency is encouraging residents to provide input to determine how it will allocate those funds during the next five years.

When county voters re-authorized Measure A in 2004, they also approved the Transportation Expenditure Plan, which guided the transportation authority's allocation of funds in its previous five-year plans.

Commuters concerned about increasing traffic congestion throughout the Bay Area might be surprised to learn congestion relief played only a small role in the 2004 plan, which allocated just three percent of funds to pedestrian and bicycle improvements and only one percent of funds --the same amount allocated to administrative costs-- for alternative congestion relief, such as park-and-ride and carpooling programs.

While traffic congestion is a key concern in the region, transportation authority spokesman Will Reisman said he couldn't speculate about how much priority the public will give to the issue when they attend the agency's outreach meetings.

The transportation authority faces numerous challenges on the congestion front, according to an agency report. The county's population is projected to see a 25-percent increase by 2040, but commuters are not likely to get out of their cars. The number of solo driver car trips in 2040 is projected to decrease by just 1.7 percent compared to 2013, and will still account for over half of all trips, the report states.

The projected share for carpooling, biking, and walking is also predicted to change very little during that time period, but public transportation use will see the largest increase, going from 6.1 percent in 2013 to 8 percent in 2040.

Increased reliance on public transportation may relieve area traffic congestion, but it also presents the agency with other challenges, Reisman said, noting that Caltrain needs to increase its capacity because its trains are packed during peak commute hours. To help address the situation, Caltrain is in the process of purchasing 16 train cars from Los Angeles County's Metrolink and preparing them for service, he added.

Another issue the transportation authority faces is that while Measure A will provide the agency with just under $200 million over the next five years, potential funding needs for pedestrian, bike, railroad grade separation and highway programs could exceed $500 million during that period.

"The county's needs are always going to outweigh what we have," Reisman said. "That's why it's so important that we have these meetings and involve citizens in prioritizing our projects."

The agency held its first public meeting on the five-year plan in Menlo Park on Wednesday. Additional meetings are scheduled in South San Francisco, Pacifica and San Carlos. For dates, times and locations, visit: http://tinyurl.com/smcta

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