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Transportation Advisory Board January 11

Board member despairs over lack of action
But what can the Board do?
Warwick Jones

Lack of action is disturbing one member of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). At yesterday's meeting Board member Cowley complained, "All we do is study and study. We are nowhere". The referendum on the sales tax was over a year ago and "we have made no decision on spending".

The Board member's observation was largely correct. But it was unfair to imply inaction, and the Chairman and other members of the TAB went to some length to show why. Most of the TAB meetings have been directed to delineating objectives and criteria. These are to provide the framework for decision-making. As well, decisions should wait the outcome of the Comprehensive Transportation Plan that is now being prepared by the Consultant. This Plan was promised in the sales tax referendum and will be the basis for directing spending. Public hearings also had to be held to obtain citizens' views. All of this takes time.

And one must not forget CARTA, as Board member Pena said. A sizable allocation of funds had been made and the entity had aggressively expanded services over recent months.

Lack of funds is main problem
But perhaps the most persuasive reason for inaction is that the lack of funds. Although the sales-tax referendum was over 12 months ago, it was only in November that funds started to be distributed to the County. TAB and Council had already allocated part of these funds, particularly to CARTA and to some CTC road projects already considered. And as the Chairman reminded members, the referendum also approved a bond issue, the proceeds from which would be used to fund some specific projects. These projects, by being mentioned in the referendum documents, did not have to come before the TAB for perusal. However, the interest and the amortization of the bonds have first draw on sales-tax funds. The updated CTC road works priority list is expected to be presented to Council shortly and should be delivered to the TAB thereafter.

Bonded projects could absorb all funds
The funds that are due to be collected over the 25 year life of the sales tax are projected at $1.3 bullion of which about $1.1 billion is marked for transportation needs. This sounds like a lot of money but when translated into present-day dollars, the transportation allocation is probably only about $650- $700 million (our estimate). As one TAB member noted, the projects mentioned in the Bond issue alone could absorb this amount. The obvious point is that, theoretically at least, the TAB never could be asked to approve a project if Council decided to direct sales tax proceeds only to these projects.

Consultant to assess impact of Mark Clark extension
And speaking of projects, the extension of the Mark Clark highway is the most important. The County has approached the State Infrastructure Bank for financing to help complete this development and a decision by the Bank is expected within a few weeks. The proposed completion has generated a lot of heat amongst citizens. The opponents claim that it will lead to the development of Johns Island and degradation of the environment. The proponents claim that it will alleviate traffic congestion and gridlock on James Island and parts of Johns Island. The Chairman stated that the Council was negotiating with Greenways Inc, the consultant to the Greenbelt Advisory Board, to make a study of the impact on the environment on Johns Island should the highway be completed. We have no issue with the study, but why now rather than a year ago? We are now seeking funding from the Infrastructure Bank. If the Bank does agree to finance the extension, does the County say hold back while we make a study? Perhaps the County has the word that its application will be rejected?

Discussions with Staff and GAB chairs
A major part of yesterday's meeting was taken up with discussion, dominated by the Chairman, about the Strategic Alignment Session, a meeting between the TAB chairs, the Transportation Consultant and the County Staff. Perhaps it was the "wordiness" of this discussion that prompted Board member Cawley to make his despairing cry. But in summary, the Strategic Alignment Session was designed to make sure all of the parties were attuned to each other's thinking in anticipation of the Comprehensive Plan, and to c onsider any looming issues. At the session, the TAB was asked to take a wider role to include an evaluation of the 25-year plan being prepared by the consultant. Board member Cawley commented that when the TAB was formed it had a limited charter - how to spend sales tax money in the County. Now its role was being expanded. But nobody else seemed to object.

As it stands, a draft of the Comprehensive Plan and the updated CTC projects list should be available to the TAB by the end of this month. Public meetings will follow after the draft Plan has been made public. The dates of these meetings are now being deliberated.

The Chairman also reported meetings with the Chairs of the Greenbelt Advisory Boards and in which all the participants of the Strategic Alignment Session attended. One outcome was the decision for the Consultants of the TAB and GAB to share information collected in the County. No important decisions were made but that channels of communication have been opened in anticipation of extensive use as funding grows and projects came up for consideration.

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