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Transportation Advisory Board August 3

We meet the consultant
And not everybody is happy
Marc Knapp

The Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) met with the new consultant to the County for the first time on Wednesday. The consultant, the LPA Group, has been retained for a 5 year term and amongst other things, will develop the Comprehensive Transportation Plan that was called for in the sales tax referendum ordinances.

Comprehensive Plan ready in 9 months
Mr Robert Probst addressed the TAB and spoke of plans for the County, about the firm's history, and some of its past projects in the State and County. He said that LPA planned to produce the Comprehensive Plan within 9 months and that public input would be sought in November and December. The major part of spending from the sales tax proceeds would be directed to projects that are defined in the plan. However, there were a number of projects gathered together under the Quickstart Program where work would begin shortly. This program included 12 local roads and the Isaac German Watershed.

Some of us were surprised that the public's views would not be sought earlier but clearly a lot of preparatory work has to be done. And it is clear that the consultant will be drawing a lot of information from CHATS considering that this body already has gathered much of the information that the consultant needs.

The major tasks before the consultant over the next 12 months seems the Comprehensive Plan, the Quickstart Program and setting up an office to service the County. Major spending seems more than 12 months away. The timetable submitted by the Consultant shows only conceptual work undertaken on the specific projects that were mentioned in the $113 million bond issue that was part of the sales tax referendum. The "concept reports" would not be available until about July next year. Very generally there would be another 12 months spent on design and right of way acquisitions. Construction on the Glen McConnell /Bees Ferry Intersection, and the US 17/61 ramp is scheduled to begin around September 2008. Construction on the James Island Intersections is scheduled for March 2009 and the Palmetto Commerce Parkway by July 2009.

Work to be confined to with Urban Growth Area
Mr.Probst surprized us when he indicated that work would be confined to areas within the County's urban growth boundary. We think the consultant got the wrong message from the County. We would expect the whole of Charleston County to be part of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The Mayor of Hollywood attended the meeting and he asked the legitimate question as to what was the consultant going to do for the town of Hollywood. The answer was "pave a few roads".

Meetings already with the Cities of the County
The consultant also managed to irritate some of the members of the TAB when it was revealed that it had met with the mayors or representatives of the three major cities within the county. At least one of the board members who represented a city knew nothing of these meetings, Was it good form for the consultant to have these meeting before meeting the TAB? Ordinarily, perhaps not. But the consultant should be aware of the difficult passage of the sales tax ordinance and the concern of citizens about how the sales tax proceeds are spent. Excessive influence on the part of mayors and council members was a major reason for the creation of the TAB, and GAB for that matter

The services that the consultant is committed to provide the County are large and go well beyond the creation of the Comprehensive Plan. They entail program management, financial management, provision and collection of data, review of projects, support to legal staff for right of way services etc. The Scope of Services part of the contract goes on for 6 pages. The document also requires the Consultant to develop an initiative for disadvantaged and minority individuals that "focuses on job skills that which will evolve as a result of the Transportation Sales Tax programs. The consultant plans on retaining the equivalent to 14 full time employees and to set up an office to service the County. The contract is for 5 years and with "renewal options".

Fee to exceed $3 million a year
Of course all of this is not free and the consultant will receive somewhat in excess of $3 million over Year 1 of the contract, rising to near $4 million in year 5 of the program. This does not include work on the Quickstart program that has its own set of fees.

The LPA Group has offices in 16 states and is "nationally recognized as a Transportation Consulting and Management firm". The major projects in which it has been involved include planning for Highway 73 in conjunction with the SCDOT, management of transportation projects in Louisiana with a total value of $2.3 billion and of projects in Florida with a value of $800 million.

CARTA presents again, but interest lay with what was not said
Mr. Howard Chapman spoke at yesterday's meeting. He gave a history of CARTA and again emphasized the importance of the sales tax to its survival. As far as we could tell, he broke no new ground.

Of most interest was what he wouldn't tell us. Chairman Knott asked what was the estimated cost of a ride per passenger for CARTA. No answer. We suspect that it is near $10 but this was not to be confirmed by Mr Chapman. He did say that revenue from ticket sales was projected at $2.6 million this fiscal year and would include revenue generated in Phase 2. Only Phase 1 is presently implemented. CARTA is also planning on introducing a "Dial A Ride" service. This will allow a CARTA vehicle to pick up potential passengers and deliver them to a bus stop.

Marc Knapp is a member of TAB

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