A call by the grand jury to sharpen the congestion-busting vision for local roads received a polite, mixed response from the Napa Valley Transportation Authority.
The grand jury in June issued a report on the Authority’s 25-year Vision 2040 transportation plan. The NVTA Board of Directors last week agreed with some grand jury points and disagreed with others.
“Vision 2040 was developed over a two-year period at a cost in excess of $250,000,” the grand jury said. “However, the grand jury found that this time and expense did not result in an actionable plan to measure and solve traffic congestion.”
The NVTA Board of Directors wrestled with this and other judgments at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We believe there is a lack of understanding what the agency does and doesn’t do,” Yountville Mayor and NVTA Board Member John Dunbar said.
The NVTA is a joint powers authority among Napa County and its five cities. It oversees state and federal money for local projects, does regional transportation planning and manages the Vine bus system.
Vision 2040 looks at Napa County’s transportation future. Among other things, the 2015 document explores how $1.1 billion in expected funds over 25 years could be spent on new highway and road projects, road maintenance and mass transit.
NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller developed the theme that the grand jury seemingly has some misconceptions about the NVTA’s roles and responsibilities. She suggested that these misunderstandings spilled over into the grand jury’s perceptions of Vision 2040.
The grand jury characterized Vision 2040 as being a traffic management plan that falls short. Miller said Vision 2040 is rather a long-range vision document done with Metropolitan Transportation Commission guidelines in mind.
American Canyon City Councilman and NVTA Board Member Mark Joseph went further than the NVTA’s official responses in embracing the grand jury’s overarching themes.
“I believe the core concern of the grand jury is correct,” Joseph said. “The Vision 2040 doesn’t have a plan that says we’re going to address traffic congestion in the county.”
The NVTA is required to respond to the grand jury’s report on Vision 2040. The Board of Directors and Miller issued separate-but-related letters that discussed the report’s various findings and recommendations.
“A majority of interviewees view the Vision 2040 report’s proposed highway improvement list, bike lanes and new buses as insufficient to solve Napa County’s traffic congestion problems,” the grand jury report said.
The NVTA Board of Directors and Miller neither agreed nor disagreed with this finding. Miller called it an opinion, adding that Vision 2040 is a road map to address many transportation challenges not limited to congestion.
The grand jury found that Vision 2040 has no way to measure annual traffic congestion relief. In contrast, it said, the Sonoma County counterpart plan has such goals as reducing peak period travel time per trip by 10 percent by 2040.
It called on the NVTA to set goals and timelines with measurable results and make annual progress reports to the public starting next January.
Miller agreed that Vision 2040 lacks quantifiable measurements and performance targets. Setting such goals should be done when the NVTA develops the next countywide transportation plan beginning in 2018-19, she wrote. The next plan is to be adopted in 2020.
By July 2018, the NVTA should seek new, dependable funding ideas to ease congestion, the grand jury report said.
Miller said the agency is aggressively seeking money. For example, the recent gas tax increase by the state will provide almost $1 billion annually in competitive grants and the NVTA anticipates receiving significant new funding.
The grand jury wants the NVTA by January to create a plan promoting Napa County as an ideal test market for companies investing in transportation technology and market research and development. It pointed to driverless shuttles being used at the Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon.
Miller has reservations. The NVTA doesn’t have the money to encourage private sector partnerships with government on commercial technology projects, she wrote.
Nor is Napa County necessarily an ideal test market for companies investing in transportation technology, given it has lower densities than places such as San Francisco and San Jose, she wrote.
Still, the agency will monitor agencies around the country to understand new technologies. It will reach out to and partner with technology companies as grants for such technologies become available, she wrote.
The NVTA praised the citizens who sat on the 2016-17 grand jury and served as watchdogs.
“I do think we have a perspective of the public, since the grand jury is the public,” American Canyon Mayor and NVTA Board member Leon Garcia said.
A grand jury recommendation remains to be addressed—that the Napa County Board of Supervisors form a traffic congestion task force including traffic, economic, housing and employment experts. The Board of Supervisors has yet to take up the matter.