Last year, my report to the community explained the core services provided by the San Mateo County Transit District and the unique challenges and opportunities that will shape how we walk, bike, drive and ride throughout the Peninsula.
The district manages the county’s bus and paratransit service, and contracts with Caltrain and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority to manage regional commuter rail service and to help fund countywide highway, transit, shuttle, bike, pedestrian and local road improvements.
A lot of work has been done in each of these areas over the last year. Projects have been completed, new services have been established, legal challenges have been overcome and new revenue has been approved that will increase investment in the future of transportation in San Mateo County, and throughout the region.
In 2017, a series of studies and evaluations that were launched over the last year will help guide this investment with data-driven solutions to our most pressing challenges. But more importantly, efforts are underway to help ensure that adequate resources will be available to implement real solutions.
Soon, the results of an Express Bus Study will recommend options for connecting San Mateo County communities with a network of new bus routes that efficiently connect residents to their jobs.
A Youth Mobility Study will build on last year’s successful new youth-focused services, and will increase youth ridership and help create a new generation of lifelong transit riders.
The agency is also exploring new ways to address the challenge of providing service to the less populated parts of the county, including a Coastside Transit Study, which launched this month with community meetings in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.
Another effort wrapping up this year is the Dumbarton Corridor Transportation Study, which will identify a comprehensive set of multimodal strategies that reduce traffic congestion and improve transbay mobility options.
Caltrain continues to be the best opportunity we have to reduce regional congestion, but ridership now exceeds the system’s capacity and current diesel operations are incapable of accommodating existing or future demand.
Over $1.3 billion has been secured to modernize Caltrain and operate electric trains that will expand capacity and deliver faster, more frequent service to Peninsula communities. The project is ready to start construction, and the final step is approval of a $647 million federal grant. In January, after a full assessment of the project’s merits, the grant was recommended for approval, but the new administration delayed a final decision while the president’s budget recommendations to Congress are developed.
Employers and communities along the corridor, and policymakers and organizations around the country, have rallied to support the project because it is one of the most critical regional congestion relief opportunities we have, and because it is an immediate opportunity to create 10,000 jobs nationwide.
A decision on the federal grant is expected in mid-May but, regardless of the outcome, the merits of the project, the benefits at stake and the momentum generated over the last few years assures that Caltrain electrification will happen.
In 2017, the Transportation Authority continues to invest the county’s voter-approved sales tax in multimodal projects that reduce local and regional congestion by repairing local roads, rebuilding highway interchanges and expanding transit connections.
In 2016, the authority helped launch the U.S.-101 Managed Lanes Project, which will evaluate options to relieve congestion by reconfiguring lanes and adding carpool or express lanes to the corridor.
New funding opportunities
Of course, it is not enough to identify strategies that address these challenges. Implementing solutions means committing resources.
Caltrain and SamTrans are currently in the process of completing business plans that will help guide future decisions about how to fund the agencies’ operations and most pressing capital improvements.
These business plans will also provide the framework for local and regional funding measures being considered for the 2018 ballot. At the local level, consideration of a ballot measure is being led by the Peninsula Mobility Group, a broad coalition of private and public sector stakeholders convened by the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.
In Sacramento, the Legislature approved a series of revenue enhancements that generates over $5 billion per year for statewide investment in transportation infrastructure. For San Mateo County, this means millions of dollars in increased formula funds to support our transit needs.
I am looking forward to reporting back soon about the additional progress that we are poised to make on these many issues. I am also looking forward to hearing more from the public as we refine plans to produce tangible benefits for the communities we are proud to serve.
Jim Hartnett is the general manager and CEO for the San Mateo County Transit District, the executive director of Caltrain and the executive director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.