After months of discussion, a split vote, meetings and more meetings, the owner and operator arrangement for the Managed Lanes project is all but set in stone.
Ownership of the tolled express lane facility coming to Highway 101 in San Mateo County will likely belong to both the San Mateo County Transportation Authority and City/County Association of Governments, and those agencies will likely contract with the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority to operate the facility.
In San Mateo County, a joint powers authority will likely be created to make policy decisions related to the express lane facility and that JPA will be comprised of an equal number of members from the TA and C/CAG.
The owner/operator arrangement as described above was unanimously approved by the TA at a meeting Feb. 7 and it will become official if C/CAG also votes for that arrangement at its meeting Thursday, Feb. 14.
“I want to thank BAIFA for their flexibility in coming forward with an option that allows San Mateo County to serve our interests and continue to be owners. It also builds on our successful relationship with MTC and allows us to work collaboratively with BAIFA and with its operating experience to successfully implement the managed lanes,” said Board Member Maureen Freschet, also San Mateo deputy mayor, according to a video of the meeting. “I also think the JPA is a great idea, and I know we talked about a joint policy committee, but a JPA is a much more efficient method moving forward.”
Other rejected arrangements include ceding both ownership and operator duties to BAIFA or maintaining local control of the tolling facility and have the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority operate it.
C/CAG is a joint powers authority comprised of board members representing each city and the county that works on quality of life issues such as air quality and transportation, among others. The TA oversees the county’s half-cent sales tax revenue for transportation, and is under the umbrella of the San Mateo County Transit District.
BAIFA is a joint powers authority between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority, or BATA, that manages express lanes elsewhere in the state.
The half-a-billion-dollar Managed Lanes project aimed for completion by 2022 will construct a new lane in each direction of Highway 101 in San Mateo County and then the far left lane in each direction will be converted to a tolled express lane with real-time surveillance equipment. Such a facility promises speeds of 45 mph at all times on the express lanes, which will be free for buses and carpools of three people or more, but other motorists who choose to use those lanes will have to pay a toll. Tolls will fluctuate based on traffic volumes, but initial projections suggest prices will average $1 per mile in San Mateo County.
The operator of an express lane facility manages all aspects of day-to-day operations, while the owner decides tolling policies — whether two-person carpools or clean air vehicles can use the express lanes at a discount or for free, for example — as well as how net revenue is spent and the details of an equity program if one is adopted, among other responsibilities.
The proposed JPA would ensure the TA and C/CAG have equal decision-making power. Three members from each agency would likely serve on the JPA and officials are contemplating the following rules: At least four votes would be required to approve anything and at least five members of the JPA would have to be present for the vote. And Board Member Emily Beach, also Burlingame vice mayor, said there has been discussion about certain proposals — a managed lanes equity program, for example — requiring at least five votes for adoption.
Board Member Karyl Matsumoto, also South San Francisco mayor, suggested a mediator or facilitator from another agency be present for JPA meetings, and Beach proposed two-year terms for JPA members.
While the express lane facility in San Mateo County is expected to generate $10 million to $20 million each year in net revenue, Matsumoto anticipates revenue losses the first year or two, which has occurred with express lane facilities elsewhere.
If that happens, SamTrans CEO Jim Hartnett suggested money would likely be borrowed from the TA to cover those losses, and the money would be paid back with future toll revenue. The project also includes a contingency if there are construction overruns and, if needed, STIP funding and federal grants are other potential funding sources, officials said.
The JPA may also be set up in such a way that its funding decisions are merely non-binding recommendations to the TA and C/CAG and not obligations, Chair Don Horsely said.
If C/CAG votes for the same arrangement that the TA approved last week, then a next step is to file an application with the California Transportation Commission to allow BAIFA to operate the facility. April Chan, executive officer for the TA, said that while she does not foresee any roadblocks with the CTC application, that process will likely span months and require a public hearing.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” she said.
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