Transportation is the single-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the Bay Area, so it must be a key focus in our fight against climate disruption. Unfortunately, a new plan for transportation spending in Contra Costa County is projected to result in more driving, which would likely lead to an increase in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Each of the nine counties in the Bay Area has a “congestion management agency.” One of the goals of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee is to try to shift these agencies away from the hopeless cause of trying to manage congestion and towards beneficial work to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks.
In August, Contra Costa County’s congestion management agency, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, released a draft of its new 25-year Countywide Transportation Plan. The Executive Summary states: “By improving the transportation system, we can help address the challenges that a growing population, more jobs, and more traffic will bring. The [Countywide Transportation Plan] lays out a vision for our transportation future, the goals and strategies for achieving that vision, and the future transportation investments needed to promote a growing economy, advance technological changes, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life.” The Sierra Club contests the claim that this plan would protect the environment.
Alas, the Transportation Plan, which runs until 2040, states that it will result in a five percent increase in vehicle miles traveled per person—the opposite of the objective laid out by the Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”), which calls for a ten percent reduction of vehicle miles per capita over the next 25 years. Greenhouse-gas emissions from cars are directly related to vehicle miles traveled, so the county’s Transportation Plan flies in the face of California’s goal of cutting the climate disruption-causing emissions.
The Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”) contains a list of “performance targets.” Two of these are to “reduce per-capita carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light-duty trucks by 15 percent” and “increase non-auto mode share by 10 percentage points.” The County Transportation Authority does not disclose whether the Transportation Plan will achieve these targets, but given the projected increase in vehicle miles per capita, we can conclude that it would be incredibly difficult to do so.
As for congestion reduction, the County knows its Transportation Plan will not do much. The draft Plan notes, “Where feasible and beneficial, improve the throughput capacity of roadways while recognizing that these improvements will not, in the long run, eliminate congestion.” Despite this stated understanding, the Plan proposes to lay out $3.8 billion on building more freeway lanes. That money would be better spent on projects and programs that could lead to a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, such as providing more frequent bus service or accelerating the Complete Streets program.
The Contra Costa Transportation Authority should withdraw its draft Transportation Plan and begin fresh on one with an overarching goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Read more about Plan Bay Area in “Settlement puts Plan Bay Area back on track“.