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Ending Transportation Neglect

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Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Union City) was interested in transportation issues, so when she left her corporate planner’s job to serve in the Legislature she asked to see California’s long-range transportation plan. “The answer astonished me: There wasn’t one,” Eastin said.

So now Eastin is sponsoring AB 2927, which would not establish a plan as such but at least would begin the process with the appointment of a 22-member Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission to examine the state’s highway and transit needs between now and the year 2010, develop a transportation strategy, assess the potential cost and explore financing alternatives.

The Eastin bill would provide a start on the sort of planning that California used to do but has neglected for the past 20 years. It indeed is astonishing that California does not have any institutional mechanism for looking at total transportation needs beyond the immediate future of individual proposed projects. The Eastin commission would not have any legal authority to route highways or start projects. Its proposals would be advisory only. But such a visible and high-powered commission would provide a forum for debating this sorely neglected issue and potentially become the vehicle for statewide cooperation and agreement. Its ideas could not be ignored.

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The bill is particularly timely because the debate already is under way in Washington and throughout the 50 states over what sort of federal mechanism should succeed the federal interstate highway program when it expires in 1992. This decision will have a profound effect on the future of state transportation programs.

Membership of the commission would span the spectrum of transportation planning, construction and usage in California, including six appointees of the goveror and Legislature, representatives of the business community, local government, transit agencies and environmental groups. The modest cost, about $200,000, would be financed through the budget of the state Transportation Commission.

It is astonishing also that the legislation, cosponsored in the Senate by Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), has opposition, which includes Assembly Republicans and the state Department of Finance. There are fears that even if it passes it might get vetoed. This is difficult to believe, considering the transportation mess that California suffers now largely because of the state’s failure to plan and build a coordinated transportation system capable of keeping pace with growth and congestion.

The Eastin bill has broad public- and private-sector support, including the state Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers Assn. Those business groups understand that failure to plan an adequate transportation system threatens to bring the state’s economy to a halt. California cannot afford to neglect this task any longer.

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