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Transportation Advisory Board, May 17

Pressed by presentation deadline
Issues over application of prioritization criteria
Warwick Jones

It was not the best of meetings. Council has requested that the findings and reports of the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) be delivered to it by May 23. Although the TAB was well aware of the deadline, it has fallen behind in its preparedness. Yesterday's meeting was characterized by flurry, confusion and uncertainty as the Board attempted to fulfill its obligation. It voted to adopt its "Comments, Findings and Recommendations" but was clearly uncomfortable in doing so. A number of amendments were suggested and left in the hands of the Consultant to implement.

Draft of Executive Summary
The Chairman submitted a draft of the Executive Summary that he proposed should precede the "Comments, Findings and Recommendations" report. It seemed that most members of the TAB had not seen the draft, and much time was spent on a "public" spell and grammar check. A number of changes were proposed but the tenor of the document remained unchanged.

The highlights of the summary were:

• There has been a history of under funding (on transportation infrastructure) for many years.
• 90% of the roads in the County are owned by the SCDOT whose funding has been declining.
• Funding sources (for the County) and methods are at best Byzantine.
• If the County's quality of life and economic health is to be maintained, it cannot rely on the car and truck as the transit mode.
• A major cause of traffic problems is lack of connectivity and the failure to complete existing transit and pedestrian infrastructure.
• There is no real coordination or prioritization regarding transportation funding and land use objectives.
• The funds from the half-cent sales tax will go only part of the way in providing the necessary transportation infrastructure.

Latter part of Summary may be eliminated?
The latter part of the Executive Summary dealt with the need for Council to adopt a system to determine and prioritize projects. It suggested the adoption of the 8 criteria defined by the TAB and to which we have referred in previous postings. But it also asked that Council request Staff to develop a system matrix and report back to the TAB within 3 months. It also asked that the matrix be applied to all the roads in the 25-year plan of the County and to report back to the TAB within 6 months. The inclusion of all this was debated at the meeting and we are not sure of the outcome. The criteria are mentioned in other parts of the TAB's proposed submission to Council but the directive to Council in relation to its application was too strong for some members.

Evaluation and scoring really is subjective!
There was also confusion on the TAB as to the application of the 8-point criteria to roads mentioned in the Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). At a previous meeting, the Chairman of the TAB stated that the criteria should be applied to all roads in the CTP - outside those mentioned in the bonding part of the Sales tax ordinance and those items that Council has already approved - such as road paving maintenance, public works, drainage etc. The consultant, at that time, said that it applied the criteria when it wrote the CTP but emphasized that application was difficult and also very subjective.

The TAB at the previous meeting asked the Consultant to work with Staff and to again evaluate the roads using the 8 criteria, but to devise a point system to rank the projects. The Consultant presented its findings yesterday. It weighted each of the 8 criteria equally, attributing each with 5 points, with 5 allocated for fully meeting the criteria. The projects scored totals of 18 to 35 out of a maximum of 40. After explaining why there was some variation, the consultant fielded questions. Some members disagreed strongly to the scoring results, but one assumes, all at least agreed that scoring was very subjective. The TAB decided to leave the scoring attempt by the Consultant out of its submission. But the omission raised the question as to how formal can any evaluation matrix be to determine project priorities?

Conflicts remain
It seems the Board is divided as to whether the projects in the CTP were satisfactorily evaluated by the Consultant using the 8 TAB-defined criteria. And we are unsure as whether this will be an issue with Council. We also note that some members noted conflicts between the CTP and the TAB's proposed submission "Comments, Findings and Recommendations". Board member Smith suggested that some attempt be made at reconciling these differences. But the suggestion was overwhelmed by the weight of other business.

We also note that a draft of "Comments, Findings and Recommendations" was also submitted at yesterday's meeting. Essentially its contents represent the conclusions reached at meetings since the TAB's inception and covered in earlier postings on this site.

At this stage, no other meetings of the TAB are scheduled.