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The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is the nation’s largest regional planning agency and is governed by an 86-member Regional Council, made up of elected officials from among the six counties and 191 cities who are members. SCAG develops a variety of policy and planning initiatives to create a sustainable Southern California region. Every four years, SCAG must develop a Regional Transportation Plan, which sets out a vision for the next 25 years. SCAG adopted the most recent plan last month. In the 2016 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS), SCAG sets out a long-range vision for transportation throughout Southern California that is consistent with the region’s environmental, economic and public health goals. The “Interactive Executive Summary” provides a good summary about the plan, including the overarching strategy, the financial realities, and how SCAG intends to measure the success of its goals. And those goals are quite lofty. The RTP/SCS plans to accomplish:
- A 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040
- Improvements in regional air quality
- A 4% increase in work trips made via transit, carpooling or active transportation (walking, biking etc.)
- A 7% decrease in per capita vehicle miles traveled and 17% fewer vehicle hours traveled per capita
- A one-third increase in travel on public-transit
- A 22% decrease in daily delay per capita
But there are challenges. As described in the RTP/SCS, the region is expected to add 4 million residents by 2040. The population will also be older, with fewer working adults. This means we will need to provide more transit options for seniors, while also facing a decrease in tax revenue as there are fewer people in the labor force. And while the common view is that Millennials want a more urban, transit-friendly lifestyle, many people will still live in the suburbs and commute alone in their vehicles. Finally, while there will be an increased demand for an integrated and larger transit network, the existing infrastructure must also be repaired and maintained while SCAG reports funding is “scarce and insufficient.”
To meet these challenges and accomplish the goals, the RTP/SCS identifies $556.5 billion in transportation investments over the next 25 years, with about half of that going towards maintenance of the existing system. $56.1 billion is marked for capital transit improvements throughout the area. The RTP/SCS calls for significant expansions of the Metro subway and light-rail systems in LA County, a streetcar system linking destinations in Orange County, and wider Bus Rapid Transit service that will connect the entire region as well as new Metrolink services in the Inland Empire. While the RTP/SCS does not implement funding, including these and other projects in the plan allows project sponsors to qualify for Federal funding.
In her recent article “There are 7 Good Reasons to Invest in Southern California’s Transportation System,” Duarte Council member and SCAG 2nd Vice President Margaret Finlay summed it up well:
[T]ransportation is about more than mobility. It truly is a quality-of-life issue, impacting our prosperity — and our health…Investing in our transportation system is no longer optional.