Cities to Pay Share for Traffic Congestion : Transportation: Panel says municipalities will help finance road projects that are needed as a result of new developments.
Despite protests from some officials, the Ventura County Transportation Commission approved a plan Friday that will force cities to pay part of the cost for the traffic congestion they create with new developments.
Cities that increase congestion on major roadways, both inside and outside their boundaries, would risk losing their share of the state gasoline tax if they do not pay for road improvements.
After a three-hour hearing, the commission voted 6 to 1 to adopt the so-called Congestion Management Plan. The plan is required by state law before the county and its 10 cities can receive $7.5 million in gasoline tax revenue available under Proposition 111. The measure was approved by voters in 1990 to help pay for transportation projects statewide.
The lone dissenter in Tuesday’s vote was Commissioner Jim Dantona, who agreed with other opponents of the traffic plan that an environmental impact report should be done before the plan is approved.
Dantona of Simi Valley said that without an environmental review the commission would open itself to lawsuits from cities that refuse to comply with certain provisions of the plan. That includes a provision that would withhold money from cities failing to pay for reducing traffic congestion caused by new development.
The city of Moorpark, represented by Councilman Scott Montgomery, and the Ventura Environmental Coalition, represented by President Neil Moyer, urged that the commission seek a one-year extension from the state to conduct an environmental review.
But Commissioner Nao Takasugi, the mayor of Oxnard, said such a review could cost as much as $150,000 and that the money would come out of the county’s gas tax revenue.
“I’d rather see that money be put into our streets and roads,” Takasugi said.
Commissioner Susan Lacey, a member of the County Board of Supervisors, agreed. She said the county and its 10 cities already require environmental impact reports on large projects.
Nonetheless, the commission agreed to make some revisions in the traffic plan to more effectively safeguard the county and cities from losing their gas tax revenue. The key change altered the way the commission’s staff will measure peak-hour traffic on major roadways.
State transportation officials use a complex grading system to measure the volume of rush-hour traffic, with A being the lightest traffic and F being the heaviest. The grade is based on a road’s capacity to handle traffic. For instance, a road operating at 100% capacity is rated an F, a road operating at 90% capacity would be at level E, and 80% is rated a D.
The county and most of its 10 cities now use level C as the maximum level of allowable traffic on a given roadway. The Transportation Commission’s staff initially proposed a maximum level of D before penalties were imposed on a city or the county.
The commission, however, agreed to a maximum level of E, after some city officials complained that their municipalities would be in jeopardy of losing gas tax revenue if the acceptable level of traffic was too low.
“If you approve it as it stands now, you might as well fire a Scud missile at the people of Moorpark, because you will harm innocent civilians,” Montgomery warned.
The commission agreed to review and possibly make amendments to the traffic plan at its February meeting.
In the meantime, the panel agreed to join other transportation agencies throughout the state in seeking cleanup legislation of the state law requiring regional traffic plans. Commissioners said they want to know what happens to the money that is withheld from jurisdictions that do not comply with the plans.