Saturday, July 9, 2016
Marin [County]grand jury faults planning of Drake Boulevard traffic project
A controversial Sir Francis Drake Boulevard improvement project should be limited to changes that will reduce traffic and make the road safer, according to the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
Its new report, “Traffic Congestion in Marin — The Sir Francis Drake Boulevard Project Deconstructed,” examined the long-planned overhaul to discover why “Marin residents, who pay about $140 (a) year in local transportation taxes and fees, have yet to see any significant traffic congestion reduction.”
The panel concluded that there are recurring problems in funding restrictions, fragmented planning, local politics and conflicting local interests.
“Both (the Transportation Authority of Marin) and the Board of Supervisors failed to set any measurable goals and outcomes for the project — including no quantitative goal for congestion relief,” the grand jury reported. “Challenges remain in selecting improvements that will: fit within the available funding, have local support ... and have measurable estimates of the improvement in travel times that can be predicted along with favorable reductions in emissions.”
Supervisor Katie Rice, who has been shepherding the project, could not be reached for comment.
The plan is being financed by Measure A, the 2004 transportation sales tax that is supposed to fund projects that reduce traffic.
The main purpose of the project is to repave the 2.5-mile stretch of boulevard between Highway 101 and Ross town limits. It’s one of the busiest thoroughfares in the county, accommodating nearly 50,000 vehicles a day.
Although it’s still in the planning stages, the project is expected to include other improvements, such as coordinating and realigning intersection traffic, widening sidewalks and adding and shortening crosswalks, some with pavement lighting. In one area near the freeway, a third lane would be added.
Through public outreach, about $19.2 million worth of improvements were identified.
The grand jury praised county planners and consultants for their public outreach and for considering plans that did not fit within the initial budget, “but now the project must pare down the improvements to match the budget or identify reliable sources for funding the difference, and continue to do that with public input.”
Bob Goralka, the county’s principal civil engineer, said it’s a timely report.
“Traffic congestion and safety have remained the two top priorities,” he said. “We are continually seeking public input on the project, on the proposed options and alternatives. ... Our goal is to eventually satisfy all the needs — some we can do with the funding that is currently available.”
The grand jury agrees with plans for 11-foot lanes, high-speed right-turn lanes and better traffic signal control, saying “the improvements under consideration appear to strike a good balance of decreasing congestion and improving safety and access.”
However, “the sponsors and the public could make more informed decisions if the existing level of service (a rating that measures the quality of traffic flow) for the entire corridor was modeled and publicized,” including a model that demonstrates how each road improvement could affect the rating.
TAM Executive Director Dianne Steinhauser said what is included in the project is “solely at the discretion of the planners. We also recognize that public discourse is a good thing in the public process.”
The grand jury also reported: “There are opportunities for congestion relief on or near the corridor being managed as separate projects, with different lead agencies, that are not formally underway, are on hold, and have long approval and implementation intervals,” referring to potential school bus programs, ramp metering, and the third lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
A school bus program for the Kentfield School District was explored this past year, said Robert Betts, director of planning and operations for the Marin County Transit District.
“The bottom line is right now it’s challenging for a school district to start a new bus program,” he said, noting that on average, each school bus costs about $100,000 annually, usually leaving about a $50,000 subsidy to be picked up by taxpayers.
“It’s not cheap,” he said.
Steinhauser added, “There are very limited resources,” but it’s something they know Marin Transit is working on.
As for the Sir Francis Drake project itself, she said, “the county process appears to be thorough and well-managed. ... We are going to continue to provide funds — they’ve got to decide what the scope of the project should be.”
Construction for the project is expected to begin in spring 2018. Work would be done in the spring and summer months only, over two years.
The report by the grand jury, which is empowered by the local judiciary to research public policy issues and monitor government performance, is available online at bit.ly/296U4xz.
July 3, 2016
Marin Independent Journal
By Adrian Rodriguez