I went to the TAC meeting yesterday to get a feel for the pulse of transportation planners and how they are responding to increasing gas prices and perpetually shrinking budgets.
The TAC (Technical Advisory Committee) is a component of HCAOG (Humboldt County Association of Goverments). It’s basically a room full of the heads of public works from the county, cities and tribal entities, and transit agencies, of Humboldt County, horse trading for transportation funding in a fairly cooperative manner. This is where the majority of transportation decisions are made for the county. The Board of Directors has final say, but generally follows the recommendation from the TAC. I don’t recall ever seeing a journalist at a TAC meeting.
This month, the biggest item on the agenda was approval for the Unmet Transit Needs report. As per usual, the report “found no unmet transit needs that are reasonable to meet.” That means that entities that have additional TDA (Transportation Development Act) dollars after paying for their transit services, can go on to spend it on streets and roads. Arcata and Eureka spend all of their TDA money on Transit, and so have none left over, so whether they have unmet transit needs or not, they are not obligated to meet them because they have no dedicated money to do so. Pretty much every other entity uses a substantial portion of their TDA money, which comes from sales tax, for their streets and roads program, effectively subsidizing automobile dependence at the expense of expanding transit service. The most recent report from the ever-moderate Grand Jury found this use of TDA money for streets and roads to be something that should be re-examined.
Our county differs from our neighbors: Del Norte, Trinity and Mendocino. In part because each of them have a unified transit authority for the whole county, our neighboring counties spend all of their TDA money on transit and some bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.
That is not to say that the unmet transit needs process is the only way to get more TDA money spent on transit operations so we can expand transit service. By keeping the report to a no findings conclusion, planners can tackle transit improvements without a mandate hanging over their heads, giving them the space to make more deliberate decisions. I should note that they requested the inclusion of a warning in the report to entities that may be looking to spend TDA money on streets and roads, that they should be ready to increase funding to transit this coming fiscal year and budget accordingly. So there may be some service expansion in the works, and if any journalist had attended, he or she could be scooping the other papers.
The TAC meets on the second Thursday of each month, 2:30 p.m. in a conference room in the Adorni Center. Agendas and minutes are available at the HCAOG website.