Monday, February 24, 2014

Local MPO to Review 2014-15 Work Plan Tuesday the 25th

Our Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, meets tomorrow at noon, and here's a baggy post on some of the agenda, mostly about the "work plan" for next year. (It's all longueur, just fair warning!)  The major item of interest, bike counters for the Union Street Railroad and Minto Bridges, has already been discussed.

Context:  Red Tape

First off, in case you were wondering, here's a list just of Federal programs that require compliance on transportation planning:
1. 23 USC 134, 49 USC 5303 which require, in part, the preparation of a transportation plan that shall at a minimum include:
The projected transportation demand of persons and goods.
Identification of an integrated multimodal metropolitan transportation system.
Operational and management strategies to improve the performance of the existing transportation system. Consideration of the results of the congestion management process.
Assessment of strategies to preserve the existing and future transportation infrastructure.
Descriptions of existing and proposed transportation facilities of sufficient detail to prepare air quality determinations and cost estimates.
A discussion of types of potential environmental mitigation activities.
Pedestrian walkway and bicycle transportation facilities.
Transportation and transit activities, as appropriate.
A financial plan that demonstrates how the adopted transportation plan can be implemented.
2. Sections 174 and 176 (c) and (d) of the Clean Air Act, as amended.
3. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended.
4. 49 USC 5332, prohibiting discrimination.
5. Section 1101(b) of the SAFETEA-LU regarding the involvement of disadvantaged business enterprises.
6. 23 CFR part 230, regarding the implementation of an equal employment opportunity program.
7. The provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
8. The Older Americans Act, as amended.
9. Section 324 of title 23 USC regarding the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.
10. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
That's allotta red tape! And as you know from any regulatory environment, regulations work in multiple ways, sometimes ensuring that important stuff doesn't get overlooked or willfully ignored, other times also acting as a drag on efficiency and, for ordinary citizens, creating a Byzantine system which specialists and insiders can regularly exploit and by which they can baffle citizen advocates who cannot possibly master all the technical, regulatory, and bureaucratic details. 

The 2014-15 Work Plan

Here I want to wander a bit through the 2014-2015 Unified Planning Work Program (full packet and documents here) which is a required document that basically says, "this is what we're gonna do this year":
This document contains the FY 2014-2015 Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) for metropolitan transportation planning activities for the Salem-Keizer Urbanized Area (Map 1) coordinated and provided by the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS). SKATS staff are employed by the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments (MWVCOG).

All of the products and activities programmed in the SKATS UPWP derive directly from products and processes prescribed for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) by federal transportation and air quality statutes and regulations, including:
  • Title 23, United States Code as amended (2012) by Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21);
  • Joint FHWA/FTA Metropolitan and Statewide Planning Regulations (23 CFR Part 450 and 500, 49 CFR Part 613);
  • EPA Transportation Plan Conformity Rule (40 CFR Parts 51 and 53); and
  • Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the President’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice, and relatedstatutes, executive orders, and federal regulations.
Oregon state regulations also require coordination between the MPO and state agencies to comply with state transportation and air quality regulations such as the Oregon Transportation Conformity Rule and the Oregon Transportation Planning Rule (TPR).

The purpose of the work program is to identify the major transportation planning activities to be carried out with federal and state funds within the SKATS Transportation Management Area (TMA) area during the program year by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments (MWVCOG) staff acting for SKATS, the Salem Area Mass Transit District (SAMTD), other state agency personnel, and local jurisdictional staffs, particularly on transportation planning work using federal funds and affecting the regional transportation system.
Blah, blah,'s not compelling reading, in part because it's full of acronyms and regulations. But it may not be possible to make something like this very interesting!

The Third Bridge and Modeling

Then we get to a more detailed break-out of the work, and one of the broad classes of projects is, unsurprisingly, "Major Regional Transportation Planning Studies," the chief one of which is the Salem River Crossing boondoggle project. In a paragraph of background and context exposition, we read this:
The issue of providing additional transportation capacity and a third bridge across the Willamette River in or near the Salem-Keizer area has been ongoing for several decades. The current bridge structures (Marion Street Bridge and Center Street Bridge) were widened to four lanes in mid-1980s. However, continued growth in the region since then has increased vehicle volumes over the bridges resulting in a significant amount of the congestion and vehicle delay along the surrounding street network at both ends of the bridges (i.e., “bridgeheads”) during the peak periods. The adopted RTSP includes some road projects at the bridgeheads and connecting streets--as well as some improvements to bicycle connections to/from the Union Street Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge; although, some options need more evaluation--that will improve mobility and accessibility in the short-term; but a long-term solution is required to meet mobility and safety needs for local, regional, and through travel in the corridor. [italics added]
N3B put together two nice charts (and here) showing the way modeling has linked driving and population growth in a linear way, and how that assumption no longer models reality! (The broken Federal level modeling is discussed here.)

At best it is a "truthy" statement that "continued growth in the region...has increased vehicle volumes over the bridges..." and only by ignoring recent trends, trends that are echoed throughout the nation, and zooming out to a half-century or more can the statement be true.  In a more meaningful horizon of recency, the statement is false:

N3B:  Population Growth  does not equal driving growth!

N3B:  Linear projections don't model reality right now
Another section of the work is "Travel Demand Model Data, Forecasts, and Refinement." In this section there is acknowledgment that current models, even those conforming to "best modeling practices," are in some sense inadequate. "Efforts have been underway for several years to research and define the structure and data required for the next version of the travel demand model." But inadequacy scales, and while a 10% error on traffic modeling for a small strip mall on the edge of town rounds to zero, as we see with the Salem River Crossing, an unacknowledged 10% error (and one that will compound and grow) is leading us towards a billion dollar mistake.

While modeling and decision-making has to be based on "best available information" since we always lack "perfect information," some decision-making is too ready to ignore known problems, and the problems with our traffic modeling are known!

It is incredibly frustrating that the Byzantine regulatory environment and interlocking bureaucracies involved in the Salem River Crossing are routinely able to ignore important facts. The system is structured to be compartmentalized:  When discussing modeling in general, we can acknowledge inadequacies, but when discussing a particular project, doubts about the modeling are inadmissible.

Cherriots Initiatives

Cherriots' Board meets later this week and there will be more to say in another post. Transit has not been a focus here, and so I cannot tell you the specific numbers or proportions, but in general Cherriots depends on SKATS for a chunk of funding:
49 USC Section 5305(d) provides the authority to use federal funds to support the development of the metropolitan transportation system plan, metropolitan TIP, and in designated TMAs (like SKATS), addressing congestion management. The general and specific requirements for these activities are described in 49 USC Section 5303.

Under MAP-21, the State is the designated recipient of 5303 funds, and the State is required by law to distribute these funds to urbanized areas (SKATS is the subrecipient) for transportation planning in the metropolitan planning areas. By separate contract, SKATS passes-through the majority of these funds to Salem Area Mass Transit District (SAMTD) to assist SKATS with metropolitan planning issues, particularly areas involving public transit planning.
Because SKATS operates by a "consensus" model, a single dissenting vote, the threat of one, or the merest hint of one, can kill funding for a project.  This may have harmed Cherriots and local transit interests more than any other agency or entity that depends on funding from SKATS.

The threat of pulled funding probably accounts for the largest proportion of the timidity in the Cherriots response to the Salem River Crossing and the Salem Alternative:

Cherriots letter on the Salem Alternative
Letter from July 15th, 2013
Reprinted in Board Packet, December 9th, 2013
Apart from the bridge, in a section on Metropolitan Transit Planning in the Work Plan, there's also news on a few new initiatives on which Cherriots appears to be the lead:
The first is coordination with the developing multi-modal center (at the Salem Amtrak location) that serves Amtrak, Greyhound, and Valley Retriever (a daily service connecting Newport/Bend and Newport/Portland, with stops at Greyhound Bus Stations, including Salem's). The planning focus will be how to efficiently connect local transit service to this station. The second is a “Last Mile” project that will provide the final connection between the network of services operating the Coastal Connector (aka Salmon River Connector). This service will focus on completing the final link to the Greyhound Station once travelers have arrived in Salem. This Central Core Service Planning activity will continue to take into consideration the recommendations in the Central Salem Mobility Study (City of Salem, 2013) and the potential options it presents.

In addition to these items, staff will be monitoring three developments that could impact central core service both on a short-term and long-term basis. These are the State Hospital North Campus redevelopment, the Boise property redevelopment on South Commercial, and the proposed seismic renovation of the State Capitol. Initial planning will consider current traffic and parking patterns, as well as the temporary potential impacts of state employees and legislators being relocated during the renovation of the Capitol. Future planning will incorporate potential service delivery changes resulting from the recommendations made in the Central Salem Mobility Study.
As we saw with the Keizer Transit Station, Cherriots has an incomplete understanding of the "last mile" for people who bike. Hopefully they will be able to iterate and course-correct for new projects - even if their focus will be on transit connections, and not necessarily on facilities for people who bike.

Significantly, this is also the first mention I have seen of the impacts of the State Capitol project.  You may recall that Cherriots refunded an "extra" $72,000 for Rideshare funding during the anticipated start of the seismic project, and I wonder if Cherriots will wish they had that money back.

Federal Funds

And there's a nice map with a summary of area projects for which Federal funds were obligated (and remember "obligated" doesn't necessarily mean actually spent) in 2013. I don't really follow the county projects, so the bike lanes and widening on Ward and Auburn were interesting to see.

Projects with Federal Funds
Obligated in Fiscal Year 2013
Finally, there's an announcement on the next round TIGER funding, Tiger VI. For Tiger V, six local projects were discussed:
  • McGilchrist Street: ~ $19.5 mil
  • Verda Lane: Combine three projects ~$10.3 mil
  • Kuebler Blvd: I‐5 – Turner Rd: $18.2 mil
  • Gaffin Rd and Cordon Road: ~$12.3 mil
  • Cordon @ OR 22E: ~$31.6 mil
  • OR 22W @ OR 51 [Expressway Management Plan recommended projects]: ~$29.5 mil (2007 dollars)
It'll be interesting to see if anything moves this time.  It would be nice to see a "new school" and truly multi-modal project advance.  Would a large set of the downtown mobility study recommendations, for example, be a good candidate?  The previous list was mostly old-school widening projects in search of a new source of funding.

SKATS Policy Committee meets at noon on Tuesday the 25th at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200 above La Capitale and Bar Andaluz.

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