Alleviating Traffic Congestion
The city's past failure to make new development pay the costs of providing the streets needed to fully accommodate it, means the city is now confronted with the need to find substantial funds to alleviate the traffic congestion which the new growth has created. The magnitude of the city's needs is now too large for them to be accommodated by the bond issue which is scheduled for November 2008. The city has to raise substantial local funds to both expand and improve city thoroughfares. This means that both alternative funding sources for streets and alternatives to automobile travel have to be explored.
Progress Report (June 2007 – Present)
1) Passed the East Side Transportation Plan hailed by all parties as a model process. It is now integrated into the city's Comprehensive Plan.
2) Staff are preparing for the council's review three proposals for funding road improvements using
- Traffic impact fees.
- Tax increment financing.
- Traffic user fee (Percentage tax on utility bills).
Details of these are scheduled to be on the council's agenda in Summer 2008.
3) Created a new position, Director of Capital Projects, to speed up new and renovated street capital projects. His 18 member team was carved out from the Public Works Division. By separating capital projects from the many other Public Works' functions, urgent street projects can be “fast tracked”.
4) Initiated review of Traffic Impact Assessments (TIAs). These are used to ensure development is only permitted if road capacity is available to accommodate the traffic it generates. Currently, they are required only if more than 5,000 trips per day are generated. Few projects in College Station are this large. Hence, my proposal was to require TIAs on all developments generating more than 250 trips per hour of peak time. The council refused to support this.
5) Passed the Red Light Camera Program. This uses state of the art technology to enhance traffic safety. It is being pilot tested at four intersections and is intended to discourage drivers from running red lights.
6) Initiated a requirement that provision for bicycles and pedestrians must be incorporated in all street projects.
7) Initiated the inclusion for the first time of a bicycle representative to the council's Traffic Committee to ensure full consideration of provision for bicycles in all traffic projects.
Proposed Future Agenda (2008 – 2011)
1) Impose traffic impact fees. These would require all new homeowners to pay a fee which would cover the cost of new road infrastructure needed to accommodate the demand created by the new homes.
2) Explore creation of a special fund where the money is designated exclusively for roads and could not be directed to other projects. If money was raised from increases in property taxes, it would become part of the general fund and subject to being spent on other purposes. Further, the annual debt charges needed to service (say) $30-$40 million for new roads from property taxes would require raising the property tax rate by approximately 10 cents per $100 valuation which is likely to be unpalatable to many. This special fund approach must meet at least four conditions.
- It should be progressive, rather than regressive. For example, if it was proposed to add a tax to the utility bill, it should be based on a percentage rather than a flat rate.
- There must be widespread citizen input and deliberation on which roads the money will be used to enhance before the money is spent.
- There should be a public referendum to determine whether such a fund should be created. Thus, it should be treated similarly to a regular bond issue.
- Projects should adhere to the other points in this platform e.g., neighborhood preservation, ecological sustainability, embracing hike and bike trails, etc.
3) Create dedicated bike trails. As an avid bike rider, I am aware that many of those currently in existence are unsafe. It is incredible that the city's major employer has 46,000 young people moving to and from the plant each day, and there is no comprehensive, safe bike trail network.
4) Require developers of projects generating more than 200 trips per hour at peak time to accurately identify the impact their development will have on traffic flows by undertaking Traffic Impact Analyses. Currently, Traffic Impact Analyses are required only of very large developments. The council recently rejected this requirement, but TIA analysis is essential to allow the city to look at ways to better assess traffic increases ahead of anticipated development.