Request to RTA Board — April 7, 2011
A Request and Proposal to the RTA Board
by Bob Cook, April 7, 2011
Honorable Board members, I come before you as a planner, engaged citizen, and veteran of many local planning efforts. I was an active participant in the RTA planning process and because of the generous treatment for transit expansion, the streetcar project, and making our communities more walkable and bikable, I enthusiastically supported the final plan. I wrote three affirmative ballot arguments and personally paid for two. I am currently an original member of the RTA CART committee.
I am here today to repeat a request I made two years ago that the RTA establish a transparent, contingency planning taskforce with citizen members. While most people now agree that some of the original 2006 planning assumptions have not been borne out and may no longer apply, there is still strong adherence to the notion that the fundamental basis of the 20-year plan is valid and should remain intact as the “will of the people” even though the world is dramatically different now, just five years later.
During the past year, different aspects of the RTA Plan have been the subject of discussion by the public in various media. I want to draw attention to the letter Rick Myers, original Citizens Committee Co-chair, wrote to the Board on March 18, 2011.
First, he states that none of us could have anticipated the current economic climate. I take exception to this. Some of us, myself included, argued passionately that the region’s two greatest risks going forward is our transportation system’s vulnerability to peaking oil production and our region’s lack of competitiveness with respect to other regions which have aggressively implemented smarter development patterns. Some of us saw our current predicament coming.
At the time, the response by the citizen’s committee ranged from quietly ignoring these arguments to ridiculing them. Meanwhile, governments and military organizations increasingly have been studying the implications of petroleum constraints going forward. The March 25, 2011 issue of Science, the most respected U.S. science journal, reports that scientists and analysts not under contract to the oil industry now believe that non-OPEC oil production may have already peaked and thus there may be no let up in prices going forward. The only reprieve in nominal prices will be due to demand destruction similar to what we saw in the Fall of 2008.
Mr. Myers ends his letter by expressing strong support and strict commitment to implementing the original plan over the next 15 years. Increasingly however, more of us are betting that housing and population growth in this region will not return to pre-2006 levels in the next five years and given the growing risks in the financial markets, probably not in the next ten years.
Thus , it very well may be folly to rigidly adhere to a plan when so many of the underlying assumptions remain questionable, including costs and revenues, population growth rates, the ability of jurisdictions to fund budget shortfalls, high VMT (vehicle-miles-traveled) projections, and low preferences for alternate modes. It is understandable that jurisdictions including the RTA strongly resist any tampering with the Plan given that this is the first dedicated regional transportation funding source to correct long-standing deficiencies.
Nonetheless, it is important and prudent to approach the future with eyes wide open. Most people want normalcy to return. But if it doesn’t, we need alternative strategies for critical public investments. The uncertainties we face entail exposure to mounting risks. I therefore request that the RTA establish an ongoing contingency planning taskforce to identify possible action plans based on emerging realities.
Thank you for your consideration.