The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance
Transportation Advisory Board, May 3
To look again at some projects in Comprehensive Plan
Is the Board attempting too much?Warwick Jones
There was some anguish at yesterday's meeting of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). It wound up discussion on the project selection and prioritization process that will be part of its public policy document. But on completion, the Chairman remarked that many of the projects in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) should be subject to scrutiny under this design selection process. And if these projects were now going to be reviewed, could the TAB complete the Plan and remain on schedule for presenting the plan to Council? The answer was very probably "yes".
Pressure on schedule
Mr. Robert Probst, representing LPA, the consultant that wrote the CTP, also thought the schedule could be maintained. He noted that most of the criteria used in selecting and prioritizing projects had been defined by the TAB in earlier meetings. The list had been included in the draft CTP. He had told the Chairman of the TAB at another meeting that it was difficult to apply the criteria to many of the projects under consideration. But he told the TAB yesterday that despite the difficulties, LPA had attempted to use the criteria when it selected projects for the Plan. Obviously, he said, it was a very subjective process.
Consultant to take another look at recommended projects
The TAB asked the consultant to look again at the projects in the CTP and attempt evaluation and prioritization in the light of the discussion yesterday. The results are to be presented to the TAB at its next meeting. The members of the TAB, and the consultant, must be hoping that that this new scrutiny results in few changes.
There were 7 criteria defined by the TAB to consider in evaluating projects and developing recommendations. They are shown below with the wording copied from the CTP. Another criterion was added yesterday and is the last on the list.
• Maintaining and completing the existing infrastructure.
• Environmental impact
• Projects that include interconnectedness to communities
• Projects with regional benefits
• Projects that provide the greatest significance to the most people
• Projects with the capacity to leverage other funding sources
• Projects that are multimodal and stroke or multipurpose
• Ensure that projects are compatible with relevant land-use regulations
Public meetings on projects part of policy
The TAB also debated as to whether there should be a necessity to have public meetings on all projects. It was agreed that there should be, but that it should not be part of the selection and prioritization process. It should be part of policy and the TAB voted accordingly.
Not all projects affected
As the Chairman pointed out, the new scrutiny requested by the TAB did not apply to all projects. After the deduction of the amounts for greenbelts and mass transit, roughly $850,000 remained for transportation from the half-cent sales tax funds. A substantial amount of this sum had already been committed by Council, such as for funding of the Cooper River bridge, CTC local paving projects, CTC resurfacing projects, drainage projects, intersection section projects, pedestrian and bikeway projects etc. Deducting these amounts from the total left only $313 million available in discretionary funds. It was the projects that would qualify for funding from this amount that would be scrutinized.
The TAB earlier agreed that spending on transportation projects should begin as soon as possible to reduce the risks of the impact of inflation. It recommended that Council issue bonds on which the interest and amortization costs should be met from the remaining sales tax proceeds. The estimated $313 million remaining, which would be collected over the life of the sales tax, would allow bond issues of the order of $150 million The proceeds of these bond issues could be spent on projects relatively promptly.
The CTP, available on the County's web site, shows road projects that could be affected. Press here to access the Plan. Initial spending on the bonded projects mentioned in the sales tax referendum will not be affected but subsequent funding could well be, depending on where they rank in the prioritization process. There was confusion amongst members as to what projects needed to be reconsidered. We were also confused.
One member uneasy about TAB's direction
Sensing the concern of the impact from reassessing projects mentioned in the CTP, the Chairman attempted to draw comments from TAB members. They did not come easy. Most members were supportive, but one was uneasy. Board member Hipp is one of the more restrained members of the TAB but his comments are usually thoughtful and provoking. The role of the TAB should be to define a good process, to make sure there was plenty of sunlight on the process, and nothing stupid happens, he said, He was wary of making the process too complicated. He thought the TAB should provide the "wet mud", and that Council and others should shape the final process. The process was a fluid one, he said. The TAB should not expect to "nail down" every facet. He didn't come out and say it, but the implication was clearly TAB is going too far.
Deputy Chairman Welch, although he supported the reasseement of the projects in the CTP, also indicated support for Board member Hipp's view. And considering comments made earliert in the meeting, some other members were probably also in broad support.