RM3’s claim of reduced traffic is misleading

Was the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) lying to the public when it wrote the ballot language for Regional Measure 3? The measure’s principal claim is that it will “reduce auto and truck traffic.”

A leading opponent of Regional Measure 3, TRANSDEF, with deep familiarity with MTC’s planning documents, knew that MTC’s Regional Transportation Plan for 2040 projected a 44% increase in hours of congestion delay and a 21% increase in driving. These figures suggest that claims of traffic reduction were knowingly false.

TRANSDEF filed a Public Records Act request on May 9, 2018 asking for:

Any studies or analysis demonstrating that the implementation of the Regional Measure 3 Expenditure Plan “will reduce congestion” or “reduce auto and truck traffic.”

The quoted phrases come directly from the ballot language of Regional Measure 3, or the ballot arguments filed by the measures proponents. Had there been a study demonstrating an actual reduction in congestion, MTC would surely have provided it in a timely manner. Instead, the May 21 response from MTC stated: “Metropolitan Transportation Commission will require up to an additional 14 days to respond to your request.” With MTC’s credibility at stake, it is hard to see this delay as anything other than an attempt to run out the clock before the election.

On June 1, MTC provided TRANSDEF with an 87 Mb set of documents, mostly from the Regional Transportation Plan process. None of these documents provides a region-wide analysis of congestion or traffic.Therefore, MTC has tacitly admitted that it is unable to support a claim that Regional Measure 3 helps the region overall. It is now clear that MTC intended those claims to apply only to individual localized congestion, and not to the region as a whole. In short, RM3’s claim is over-broad and likely to be misinterpreted.

Instead of addressing the problem of congestion by looking for ways to reduce solo driving across the region, the documents target localized congestion with individual projects. TRANSDEF’s David Schonbrunn commented:

These materials explain why the Bay Area’s traffic is so bad. For decades, MTC has been putting Band-Aids on the most congested locations, while traffic across the region has continued to get worse. Because MTC has been unable or unwilling to think regionally, it’s been applying its resources to local problems. This strategy does nothing to correct the region’s over-dependence on solo driving. Because MTC refuses to take on change to the status quo, its approach can only lead to gridlock in the long-term. That is why we oppose RM3.

The closest thing to a responsive document is a spreadsheet of RM3 projects, analyzing them for consistency with the Regional Transportation Plan, aka Plan Bay Area. The remaining documents (38 Mb) are reports from the regional transportation plan process, which are entirely irrelevant, as the final projections from the Regional Transportation Plan show devastating congestion in the future. Also irrelevant are 30 Mb of reports on individual projects, including the I-80 WB Truck Scales, the Dumbarton Corridor Transportation Study and the Core Capacity Transit Study, because they were never intended to demonstrate a region-wide benefit. A massive data file on truck traffic was likewise irrelevant.

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