Bay Area Council Blog: 21st Century Infrastructure Archive

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Statement: Caltrain Electrification Groundbreaking

MILLBRAE, CA— Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman today joined Governor Jerry Brown, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Congresswoman Jackie Speier and other key stakeholders at the Millbrae Caltrain Station for the official groundbreaking ceremony of the Caltrain Electrification Project.  The Bay Area Council released the following statement attributable to Jim Wunderman.
“It’s ironic that the region that invents much of the future has struggled with an overcrowded, diesel-powered, 153-year-old rail line running right through its heart – but today that changes. Silicon Valley will soon have a modern, fast and clean rail system that according to our 2012 study, will deliver 9,600 construction and related jobs and generate more than $2 billion in economic activity across America. Our region is not alone dealing with outdated infrastructure and we hope Congress can unite around a large-scale national improvement program this year, making Caltrain Electrification the start of a legacy of new building.”
The Council has long advocated for an electrified Caltrain and helped assemble the original package of federal, state and regional funding for the project. The final push across the finish line came in May when U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao approved a final $647 million grant that had been promised to help pay for the project.
Special thanks goes to Senator Dianne Feinstein who worked very hard behind the scenes to achieve this momentous goal.

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Council Hails Key Vote on Bill to Address Bay Area’s Traffic, Commute Crisis

Following weeks of intensive advocacy in the Bay Area and Sacramento, the Bay Area Council hailed yesterday’s pivotal vote by the Assembly Transportation Committee on a bill that could lead to $4.2 billion in new funding to help ease the Bay Area’s traffic and commuter nightmare. The bill—SB 595 authored by state Sen. Jim Beall—would authorize a regional, nine-county ballot measure in June 2018 for a toll increase on state-run bridges in the Bay Area that a recent poll found was supported by 56 percent of voters (and requires a simple majority). The Council provided key testimony in support of the legislation at the hearing and has worked closely over the past few months with Bay Area legislators and many other stakeholders to shape the plan and help get it closer to the finish line.

“We’re one step closer to taking a big leap forward in addressing the region’s transportation and traffic crisis,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “With the funding that a regional toll increase would generate we can make important investments to expand mass transit like BART, Caltrain and ferries, ease congestion on traffic-clogged freeways and address the number one frustration plaguing Bay Area commuters.”

With the Committee’s approval, the bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for a vote and, with approval, to the Assembly floor later this summer for final approval before heading to the Governor’s desk for his signature. The passage of SB 595 would set the stage for a region-wide vote in 2018, which the Council would play a leading role in organizing. Voters have approved two previous, similar measures. To learn more about the Council’s transportation policy work, contact Policy Director Emily Loper.

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Water Committee Meeting set to discuss controversial bill with Senator Monning

The next meeting of the Bay Area Council Water Committee will feature special guest Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) to discuss SB 623. An estimated one million Californians, mostly in small rural areas, are currently served unsafe drinking water. SB 623 would generate about $110 million per year for clean drinking water infrastructure in small rural areas, and would be funded through increased fertilizer taxes and a monthly surcharge on water bills statewide. The bill is supported by a coalition of agriculture and environmental justice organizations, and has drawn opposition from the Association of California Water Agencies. In addition, Committee members will receive a presentation from the Department of Water Resources on the incredible construction project currently underway to repair the Oroville Dam spillway, which was heavily damaged during last winter’s record storms. To RSVP, please contact Policy Manager Rachele Trigueros.

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International Competition for Bay Resilience off to Huge Start

Last month, the Bay Area Council joined with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and other Bay Area leaders to announce the launch of an exciting design competition to solicit innovative solutions to address the effects of sea level rise, severe storms, flooding and earthquakes in communities around the San Francisco Bay. In response, the Resilient by Design/Bay Area Challenge has received an amazing 51 applications from local, national and international teams competing to become one of ten finalists chosen to design innovative projects aimed at improving the health and resilience of Bay Area communities. The final teams will be chosen in the coming weeks, with the designs themselves to be unveiled May 2018. Resilient by Design is an initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation, and a spinoff of the successful Rebuild by Design efforts following Hurricane Sandy. The goal is to help communities become resilient before a natural disaster strikes, rather than after. Rockefeller considered many other regions to award to the Resilient by Design Competition, but chose the Bay Area following the 2016 passage of Measure AA, a Bay Area Council-supported ballot measure that creates $500 million over the next 20 years for wetland restoration and bay flood protection projects. To learn more about Resilient by Design, please contact Bay Area Council Vice President of Policy, and Resilient by Design Executive Board member, Adrian Covert

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Bay Area Balance: Preserving Open Space, Addressing Housing Affordability

Failure to produce housing in the Bay Area’s urban core and near transit represents a serious threat to the region’s open space, according to a new study released yesterday by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute that makes the economic case for preserving natural and working lands and identifies opportunities for responsible development in the region.

Despite the vast opportunity and need – let alone a requirement by law to help meet California’s ambitious GHG reduction targets – the Bay Area has made glacial progress realizing only 57% of the full potential for infill housing development of its urban core. Inability to build housing in the region’s core is forcing development further away from job centers, jeopardizing valuable open space and undermining state climate change goals. The analysis estimates the Bay Area greenbelt’s value to be as high as $14 billion per year – with direct and indirect benefits stemming from food, recreation, clean air, natural resources and protection against sea level rise.

“Building more housing and protecting open space are not mutually exclusive,” says Bay Area Council Economic Institute President Micah Weinberg. “We need to develop responsibly and actually fulfill state-mandated requirements to build within Priority Development Areas, meeting transit-oriented, infill housing goals. Smart growth will spare our open space and keep the Bay Area economically resilient, sustainable and equitable.”

Read Bay Area Balance: Preserving Open Space, Addressing Housing Affordability>>

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Key Vote on Bill to Authorize Regional Transportation Funding Measure

A critical vote is scheduled for Monday, July 10 in the Assembly Transportation Committee on legislation (SB 595) to authorize a regional transportation funding ballot measure, and the Bay Area Council is urging lawmakers to approve it. The committee is chaired by East Bay Assemblymember Jim Frazier, who has been a champion of improving transportation and was co-author of SB 1, the landmark bill to invest $52.1 billion to fix the state’s roads, highways and bridges, fight congestion and enhance transit. On SB 595, the Council has been working directly with state lawmakers who are crafting a $3-$4.2 billion regional plan that would support a major expansion of regional ferry service; acquire new high capacity BART cars; break freeway bottlenecks; and invest in other critical improvements that will address the Bay Area’s transportation crisis.

These badly needed improvements would be funded by a gradual increase of tolls on state-owned bridges (Regional Measure 3) in the Bay Area that voters in all nine counties would be asked to approve in June 2018. Recent poll results found that Bay Area voters fed up with the region’s awful traffic and overcrowded transit systems would approve a toll increase of up to $3. The Council will be in Sacramento on Monday testifying in support SB 595. To learn more about the Council’s transportation policy work, contact Policy Director Emily Loper.

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Workforce Opportunities Soar at United

In a recent tour of United Airlines, the Bay Area Council Workforce of the Future team learned about the ample workforce career pathways offered in aviation. United operates its largest North America maintenance facility here in the Bay Area at San Francisco International Airport. The tour provided an inside look at the extremely complicated planes, parts, machines, and machines that maintain the machines, and highlighted the huge need for technicians and opportunities for entry-level positions that are ladders to technical jobs. There are a variety of jobs from aircraft maintenance to store keeper, who handle all the parts for the aircraft. The technical jobs are growing in demand due to growth in the industry and the aging of the current workforce. For example, the technician occupation only requires an accreditation through a Federal Aviation Administration program that is offered at numerous community colleges. These positions can pay up to $100,000 a year!

There also are a number of career pathways from entry level positions that workers can pursue and earn their technician certificate while working. The huge need for middle skill aviation technicians is why the Bay Area Council will be launching a new occupational council focused on this in-demand industry. On July 6, the Council kicked off a meeting with Pamela Gutman, Deputy Sector Navigator for Bay Area community colleges, and her team of aviation experts to prep for the occupational council with employers. Working with United, as well as our other aviation and logistics members, the Council will work to close the gaps and help our members meet their talent needs. To engage in the Workforce of the Future Committee, please contact Senior Vice President Public Policy, Linda Bidrossian.

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Poll: Strong Majority Back Bridge Toll Increase to Ease Grinding Traffic

Bay Area voters fed up with grinding congestion badly want new funding for large, regional traffic relief and transportation improvement projects and are ready to dig a little deeper to cross state-owned bridges to pay for them, according to results of a new poll released today and commissioned by the Bay Area Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and SPUR. The online poll of more than 9,000 voters found that 56 percent of voters from all nine Bay Area counties would approve gradually increasing tolls by $3 over a four-year period.

The results come as state lawmakers are crafting legislation that would authorize a regional ballot measure to raise bridge tolls that voters could be asked to decide in June 2018. The measure would require majority approval. The exact amount of any toll bump hasn’t been finalized, and legislators are considering increases ranging from $1-$3. The increase would apply only to state-operated bridges in the Bay Area and not the Golden Gate Bridge, which is operated separately.

“Paying a little higher bridge toll to lessen the awful toll of traffic is clearly worth it to a strong majority of Bay Area voters,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “When you consider the huge amount of time that commuters waste in traffic every day, adding a couple extra dollars to bridge tolls will help cut congestion and expand critical regional mass transit that benefits the entire Bay Area.”

Read the bridge toll poll results memo>>

Voters were unequivocal in their feelings about traffic, with 85 percent saying it has gotten worse in the past year, according to the online poll conducted by Oakland public opinion firm FM3. Voters were also very clear that they don’t want half measures. An overwhelming 74 percent want the proceeds of any toll increase to pay for “big regional projects” that ease traffic and improve mass transit, including enhancing freeway carpool lanes and expanding BART, regional ferry service and other bus and commuter rail systems.

The three non-partisan, public policy organizations are working together to help shape the legislation authorizing a regional measure and plan to partner on a regional campaign to win voter approval should it be placed on the ballot. Voters have approved two previous bridge toll increases to fund traffic relief and improvements to mass transit. To engage in our transportation policy work, please contact Senior Vice President Michael Cunningham.

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Real Reasons to Embrace Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles are undeniably cool, but, in their meeting with industry experts from Waymo (Google), Zoox, and Lyft, Bay Area Council Transportation Committee members learned that the real reasons to applaud the development of autonomous vehicles are safety, mobility, and sustainability. Over 35,000 people died in automobile accidents in 2015; 95 percent due to human error; and, after decades of declines, the number of fatalities is rising at 7 percent per year. Fully autonomous vehicles, with no human interaction ever required, are probably the safest solution, and they’re also the solution that will offer mobility to people (blind or disabled, for example) that can’t safely drive themselves.

Our industry experts and Committee members also considered how autonomous vehicles will be owned and used, and concluded that the most likely scenario is that households will choose to reduce their transportation costs by reducing or eliminating vehicle ownership, and instead turning to on-demand transportation services from fleet operators. The Council will continue its efforts to create a clear and hospitable legal environment in California for autonomous vehicle development. To participate, contact Michael Cunningham.

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Traffic is Hellish: New Measure Big on BART and Ferries Will Help A Lot

Our polling and traffic studies all confirm what you experience – traffic is the Bay Area is epically bad. The Bay Area Council is working directly with the Bay Area Caucus (our state Senators and Assemblymembers) on a $3-$4.2 billion regional plan that would massively increase ferry service throughout the region; get BART new, higher capacity cars; break critical freeway bottlenecks; improve freight movement; and secure other critical improvements our members and residents badly need (or really, needed “yesterday”).

Ferries, in particular, can play a huge role in addressing growing Bay Area traffic congestion. Ferries used to carry 55 million passengers a day. Dormant for decades, a new system was launched in 2004 behind the Council’s strong advocacy. Ridership has since skyrocketed, climbing 78 percent in just the last two years to 2 million riders a year. With terminals costing just $10 million apiece (on average) and boats costing between $1.5-$15 million depending on their size, it’s possible to get a “BART-on-the-Bay” armada crisscrossing the waters from Silicon Valley to the Carquinez Strait in a very short period of time, and at a low cost. New York City just brought a system of 20 boats online in nine months, and after 60 days the system is over capacity and the city is scrambling to get more boats built.

The improvements included in the regional plan would be paid for with a toll increase on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges, which early polling suggests voters would back in a June 2018 election.  The legislation (SB 595) will have several critical votes in the next few months, and we will keep you updated. To engage in our transportation policy work, please contact Senior Vice President Michael Cunningham.