Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It’s Done!...Or is it just the beginning?

It’s done!  After four years of hard work, countless meetings, and input from hundreds of Treasure Valley residents, Communities in Motion 2040 (CIM 2040) was adopted by the COMPASS Board of Directors on Monday, July 21, 2014.

I’d like to thank everyone who dedicated their valuable time to help make CIM 2040 a reality. Staff from COMPASS member agencies spent numerous hours sharing professional expertise, reviewing data and technical information, and providing input on plan drafts.

I’d also like to extend a special “thank you” to those members of the CIM 2040 Planning Team and CIM Leadership Team who were not COMPASS member agency staff. These team members represented elements we had not addressed in CIM before – housing, economic development, farmland, and more – and brought valuable new expertise to help COMPASS develop a plan that takes a broader look at the future of the valley.

Now what?

Our staff will take a big, deep breath, then continue to the next phase of planning. Initially, three things will happen in tandem:

1. The CIM 2040 document will be finalized and a companion summary document will be prepared. Both of these will be printed, distributed, and posted to the COMPASS website. Please let COMPASS know (info@compassidaho.org) if you would like a hard copy of the full plan or the summary and we’ll make sure you get one when they are available.

2. We will continue the planning process by beginning to work on the update to CIM 2040: CIM 2045. In fact, some of the behind-the-scenes work on this has already begun. CIM 2045 is anticipated to keep the same goals and vision for growth as CIM 2040, but will update the financial forecast, growth allocations, and transportation needs based on changes that have occurred since they were developed for CIM 2040.
3. Most importantly, we will be implementing the plan. This plan was developed to be used as a guide and a decision-making tool, not simply to fulfill a requirement and then gather dust.
Implementation will take several forms. First, COMPASS and others will begin work on specific tasks that have been identified to help meet plan goals. I’ll discuss some of these specific projects in upcoming blog posts.

Second, COMPASS will be monitoring performance and providing feedback to COMPASS member agencies and other stakeholders through our performance monitoring report, development review checklist, and online dashboard. This will help us track progress to see if our collective actions are in line with the plan and moving the proverbial “needle” in the right direction. This performance information will also feed into CIM 2045. 

Finally, we will continue to work with our member agencies as they implement projects funded through the CIM implementation grants. The cities of Kuna, Melba, and Middleton received grants in FY2014; learn about their projects here and see what great things are already happening to implement CIM 2040.

Implementation of any long-range plan will never be complete; it is a process. There will always be new opportunities and new challenges as we forge our way ahead. I hope you’ll stay engaged as we move forward and our local communities continue to be “Communities in Motion.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Highway Trust Fund Bankruptcy: Look Beyond the Cries of “Wolf!”

If you follow transportation issues in the news – heck, even if you don’t – you’ve probably seen the headlines:
Federal Highway Trust Fund Going Bankrupt!
Transportation Projects Coming to a Halt!

It seems often we hear dire warnings, then nothing bad seems to happen, so after a while we ignore them, likening them to the boy who cried “wolf.”

Will Congress do something to shore up the trust fund before it goes bankrupt later this summer? I honestly don’t know.  

My concern is that if Congress does act, they will create a short-term “fix” – enough to avoid an immediate crisis, and once again make it appear we cried “wolf!” for no reason, but not enough to truly solve the problem.

What is the problem? How did we get here? The underlying issue is simple – the Highway Trust Fund was designed to be an user-pay fund, but while costs have increased, revenues have not.

Think of the trust fund as your salary. When you got your first job, your expenses were small – rent, a car payment, food, and miscellaneous expenses. As you matured, your expenses grew – you got married and had children, leading to the need for a bigger car, larger house (with all the maintenance that goes with it), increased trips to the grocery store, and more. Even your routine expenses cost more due to inflation.

But – here’s the kicker – your employer prides himself on being fiscally conservative, so he has chosen to not give raises; good work earns you a nice pat on the back instead.

Your employer boasts about his fiscal conservativeness, but you are in a quandary: more expenses + same salary = you can’t afford to pay your bills and eventually become a burden on society.

The Highway Trust Fund is in the same boat. Inflation has increased the costs of everything from labor to supplies, but the federal fuel tax hasn’t increase since 1993. What cost $100 in 1993 costs $158.85 today! In addition, people are driving less and they are driving more fuel efficient vehicles, which means less gas purchased, and less money into the trust fund.

By underfunding our transportation system, it too becomes a burden on society.  Freight haulers must go out of their way to avoid bridges with weight restrictions, leading to extra costs in fuel and time. Deliveries are late due to detours and roads in poor repair, leading to less efficient commerce. Workers are stuck in traffic or can’t catch a bus, due to lack of ability to keep up with demand.

Most proposals I have seen to shore up the Highway Trust Fund are short-term “fixes,” but do not address the underlying problem. We need a long-term solution by returning to a true “user pay” system:

1. Raise the fuel tax.

2. Index the fuel tax to inflation, so we aren’t having this argument in the future – Congress won’t have the unpleasant task of raising taxes; the taxes will raise themselves.

3. Implement a tax on electric, hybrid, and other vehicles that are less reliant on gas so that they pay an amount equivalent to their use of the roads.

We need to stop boasting about being fiscally conservative and instead boast about being fiscally sound. Our future depends on it. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Communities in Motion: Why Do You Care? Part XI

The process of developing Communities in Motion 2040 is drawing to a close. We collected public comments on the draft plan from March 3 – April 27, and received 114 comments during that time.

Thank you to everyone who submitted comments, participated in a discussion group, attended an in-person or virtual open house, or just took the time to look at the materials and become familiar with what the plan is all about. If you’d like to read the comments we received, visit www.compassidaho.org/prodserv/cim2040.htm#PublicParticipation.

This is my eleventh, and second-to-the-last, installment in my series of blogs about why people care, or should care, about long-range transportation planning in general and Communities in Motion in particular. I’ll publish my final installment the first week of October. At that point, Communities in Motion 2040 will have been adopted and we’ll be moving into the implementation phase of the plan. We’ll also already be looking forward to the next update to the plan, Communities in Motion 2045.

But, before we get to that, I present to you the latest list of why people should care about Communities in Motion 2040, as submitted by you: 
  • It’s about down-stream effects – this is our shot at setting aside/preserving corridors for future.
  • People should be interested in future needs and use of scarce resources, whether it’s transportation, housing, health etc.
  • We should care about our transportation options as/when we get older.
  • If we can’t afford to do it today, how will we be able to afford to do it tomorrow? We have to find a way to fund our transportation infrastructure!
  • Because sitting in traffic sucks!
  • Transportation makes the world go round…
  • Efficient transportation is GREENER!

This is your last chance to share why you think Communities in Motion 2040 is important and why people should get involved ― why you care. To add your thoughts to the conversation, email aluft@compassidaho.org and we’ll post your ideas here. Watch for the last installment of the list in October!

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.