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Transportation Advisory Board, March 9

Comprehensive Plan falls short of expectations
Appropriate comments of TAB and others should be incorporated
Warwick Jones

Words and more words. They came in phrases hot and icy, lofty and wafty, in sentences incomplete and looking for meaning, and sentences long, tinged with anger and dismay. They filled a 4-hour meeting of the Transportation Advisory Board as it discussed the Comprehensive Transportation Plan - Part 1.

This was the second meeting of the TAB to consider the plan. The first was on Tuesday, which your writer was unable to attend. We were told the meeting was long, and many questions emerged from the discussion, not least the amount and timing of funding for CARTA? Written answers by LPA, the consultant, were given to the Board yesterday. We wait on a receipt of a copy. Because of the length and complexity of the answers, the TAB decided to defer discussion until its next meeting.

Where is the 25 year Plan?
Probably a fitting starting point to describe yesterday's meeting is the opening remarks by the TAB chairman. He expressed disappointment with the Comprehensive Plan submitted by LPA. He was not happy with the contents and the omissions. He was also unhappy about the attitude of the consultant and its reluctance/refusal to make changes and to incorporate comments from citizens at the most recent the public meetings. He particularly noted the absence of a 25-year plan to address the County's transportation needs nor even a 5-year plan. The Plan did not look at the systemic problems or ways to address them. He thought the report outlined well the allocation of funds arising from the sales tax, but his praise was faint. Viewers can see the draft Comprehensive Plan by pressing here

Over the ensuing long discussion, it was clear that all the other board members agreed with the Chairman but only about half the members followed on immediately in endorsing his remarks.

Nature of Plan was agreed by all parties in December
Part of the TAB's ire can be traced to an agreement that was made between it, the County and the consultant in December last. It was hatched out of a Strategic Alignment session and the summary can be seen in the Minutes of the January 11, 2005 meeting of the TAB on the County web site. Press here. Broadly, the agreement states that the Comprehensive Plan will be developed in 2 parts. Part 1 was to be prepared by LPA and to address a number of topics. Top of the list were the 25-year needs, a 5-year program and a 1-year budget. The 25-year plan was to look at the current situation, systemic problems and how to move forward. It was to touch on maintenance and include metrics. It was to identify strategic areas and finally, it was to research funding solutions.

To be prepared by the TAB, Part 2 was to be a "policy" report - to look at systemic problems, identify solutions, discern desired reality, and incorporate the GAB's Comprehensive Plan.

Chairman Knott said that Part 1 failed to live up to this agreement and indeed Part 2 was in some respects contingent on having information in Part 1 that so far does not exist.

Legal counsel advises that TAB has wide latitude
A representative of the County's legal department was present at the meeting and was asked about the TAB's responsibilities. We found it a little surprising that the TAB needed this advice at this stage of its existence. But the advice was straightforward and predictable. The ordinance that created the TAB gave it wide latitude to make recommendations to Council. What it was doing and what it planned did not cross the boundaries of the Ordinance.

BCDCG also concerned
Chairman Knott pointed also to others that were unhappy with the Plan. The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCG) wrote a letter to the TAB saying that there were errors in the report and that the long term plans of CHATS - an associate body had not been correctly described. The letter felt that the errors should be corrected and amendments made for a final plan.

The TAB went even further. It felt that its comments and those appropriate comments made at the recent public hearings should also be taken into account.

Stony response
The attitude of the consultant and the County was stony. The report stands as it is. If there are errors, then these will be noted in an erratum and sent to recipients of the report. The spokesman also showed some surprise that there could be errors associated with the CHATS data. The consultant had frequent contact with the body and had drawn extensively from it. The stony attitude to amendments also applied to all comments, including those of the TAB. The TAB had all of Part 2 in which to makes its comments, he said. But as one member of the TAB said, the "draft" report will go down as the final report and the addendums and errors that will be in another document will be " lost". For the report to be complete, it needs to be edited with the errors removed and the amendments made. Another member suggested that the attitude to errors and amendments made the TAB irrelevant. It did the same to the latest public hearings.

But why not amend the report?
Perhaps one should not draw conclusions until LPA has responded to some of the criticism that the report has drawn. The report is indeed detailed, comprising some 110 pages. We suspect that LPA has fulfilled its obligation under the Ordinance that defined the Comprehensive Plan and its preparation. LPA's role was more fully defined in the contract with the County and this probably should also be reviewed. And in its defense, although it may not have incorporated the comments of citizens at the recent public hearings, LPA incorporated those at the first public hearings, or at least it should have. But it does seem to us that to go back and correct any errors in the Comprehensive Plan would be appropriate. Maybe this will be costly, but the expense would be modest set against the funding for transportation. And after all the Comprehensive Plan is a very important document.

Report does fall short of December agreement
But the present Comprehensive Plan does seem to fall short of expectations as detailed in the agreement between the parties on December 16 last. Did the parties at the December 16 meeting over-reach their authority? Possibly, but unlikely. After all the most senior members of County staff, LPA and the TAB were present. So it seems logical that the TAB should look for more than that contained in the report at present.

Budget considerations
How all of this will be resolved is unknown to us. Some urgency could be injected into discussion in future in view of the County preparation for the fiscal 2007 budget shortly. But we are unsure how much depends on the availability of a full Comprehensive Plan. As the Chairman said, the present Plan does deal with the allocation of the half-cent sales tax funds. The existence of a fuller and amended Plan may not be critical therefore. The County will be preparing two budgets- for the County and its entities, and for the Sales Tax.

"Policy" determination set for next meeting
At the next meeting, a fuller discussion is likely on "policy". Much was said on the matter in yesterday's meeting but although there was much sense, there was little form or order to the comments. Board member Sinkler nobly volunteered to attempt an outline of "policy" or at least "flesh out" some broad guidelines. She recorded what was said yesterday and will try to incorporate the ideas into the guidelines. Much may be discarded but it is easier to start with something and build on it. We liked her comments- we need to make sure the sales tax does not become a "slush fund", ensure a selection process that is fair and transparent, and involve the public in determining the direction of spending. She had much more to say but we'll leave further comment until the next TAB meeting after she has put order to what was said yesterday.

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