The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) is the current transportation legislation that authorizes federal highway and transit funds and provides the underlying authority to MPOs such as CDTC. SAFETEA-LU added new responsibilities to CDTC’s list and provided a July 2007 deadline for compliance. With this deadline in mind, the CDTC staff, Planning Committee and Policy Board accelerated work to allow CDTC to adopt a new RTP that complies with all provisions of SAFETEA-LU.
What is New Visions?
CDTC’s Regional Transportation Plan is called “New Visions”, reflecting the wholesale shift in planning philosophy that led to the first New Visions plan adoption in 1997 after several years of intensive technical work and public dialogue. Twenty-five bold principles gained the status of regional policy at that time and have guided planning and investment ever since.
The impact of the New Visions plan – and the integration of environmental, fiscal, land use and community issues into transportation decisions that is at the heart of the New Visions principles – has been substantial over the past decade. New Visions has spurred 54 “Community and Transportation Linkage” joint planning studies in 30 municipalities as of 2007 with over $3,000,000 in funding. It has provided priority for a NY 5 “Bus Rapid Transit” and land use plan across five municipalities. It has “leveled the playing field” to allow local governments to compete fairly with the state for highway repair and upgrade funds. It has ensured that steady progress will be accomplished in all areas, even during times of financial shortfalls. It has funded dozens of “spot” bike and pedestrian accommodations, sidewalks and trails. It has put a priority on operating the system, leading to the first advanced regional transportation management center, road patrols and transit – highway information connections. And it has reconciled highway planning to be more realistic and better balanced with community character.
One need only look at downtown Schenectady (with an economic renaissance supported in part by the major State Street Streetscape project enabled by New Visions), the Rensselaer Rail Station (funded in part by federal highway funds “flexed” by CDTC), rehab of I-87 and I-90 and other major roads, CDTA’s new hybrid-electric bus fleet or similar projects to see the importance of New Visions. New Visions is a living plan that has a direct impact on planning philosophy and public investment. It is not a “shelf plan” in any respect, but has had great staying power – all 25 of the adopted principles were re-adopted in 2001, again in 2004 and are still valid today.
What is New Visions 2030?
The effort to go beyond the existing plan and create a “New Visions 2030” plan has been underway for a number of years, with continuous refinement and expansion of subject matter from that in previous plans. Public involvement has ranged from engagement in the dozens of “Linkage” studies at the local level to a recent Center for Economic Growth / SUNYA / CDTC / CDRPC work documenting the fiscal impact on the region of several alternative growth scenarios for the next 30+ years. Will this region be stagnant, or grow by a quarter-million people or more? Does it matter if the cities survive? Can we make a difference through intelligent local planning? How vulnerable will the region be if there is an energy crisis?
A long list of new areas for exploration for 2030 called for new technical work and new opportunities for public reaction. Over the past several years, five working groups examined issues ranging from local governmental practices to the “big ticket” question, from “larger than regional policy questions” to the high cost of reconstructing an aging expressway system. The working groups posed new policy questions with which the region must grapple.
Why is the new plan important?
In the past several months, the policy and fiscal aspects of the multitude of these New Visions activities have been reviewed and highlighted. One by one, CDTC’s Planning Committee and subsequently the Policy Board have examined each of over a dozen draft New Visions 2030 elements that represent new draft regional policy on issues ranging from human service transportation coordination to “big ticket” initiatives.
The CDTC Policy Board has now released these draft materials for public review. These new policy commitments – which include a handful of new planning and investment principles and a new financial plan, among other items – are posted at http://www.cdtcmpo.org/rtp2030/2030.htm and will be additionally circulated for public comment between now and September 2007. Over the summer, CDTC staff will work with a “Quality Region Task Force” (which has been in place since the 2030 work started) to look for gaps in this new material and to help develop more polished summary materials for even wider public distribution. At its October Policy Board meeting, CDTC would then be asked to either adopt New Visions 2030, extend the public comment period, or both. The type of action would be dictated both by public comment received and by the work carried out with the Quality Region Task Force over the summer. The new plan will fully reflect the new planning requirements of SAFETEA-LU and ensure CDTC’s full compliance with federal law.
The content of the new plan is important. CDTC’s track record for a decade is to abide by its policies. The draft set of expanded principles frames the way this region will look at such items as transit service, urban reinvestment, roundabouts, the scope of projects, treatment of Northway and other expressway congestion and highway widening issues in general. Public buy-in to the refined New Vision approach is critical.
New Visions 2030 adoption also reflects a significant milestone along a long path. As noted, the bulk of the underlying philosophy was first fully articulated in the original New Visions plan in 1997. Since that time, CDTC and its members have been seriously engaged in implementing and refining the plan. In contrast to many other metro areas, the Capital District’s physical landscape increasingly reflects this regional planning philosophy. CDTC’s TIP reflects the plan and joint land use – transportation plans have been developed in nearly 30 municipalities since the original New Visions adoption.
The new plan broadens the scope and deepens the treatment of many issues. The incorporation of alternative growth and development scenarios into the plan has few parallels in the nation. The consideration of potential “big ticket” initiatives that would call for transportation investment of billions of dollars carefully frames a simultaneously cautious and creative policy framework. Cautious, because the plan does not commit to major system redesign or dramatic new services without the funds to support them. Creative, because the plan empowers CDTC members and others to continually explore big ideas. This innovative approach ensures that the Capital District maintains its vision during periods of financial constraint.
New official principles for the region are articulated for critical issues of safety, security and community context; consideration of roundabouts; tradeoffs between capacity and other project considerations; and a commitment to “managing” any new capacity considered on the expressway system. These, like the existing planning and investment principles, will not only keep transportation decisions in the Capital District focused on collective goals but will also serve as model statements for consideration elsewhere.
Adoption of the plan – after further public review – will officially end one chapter and initiate a new one in the New Visions saga. New work is called for in the plan. Not the least of the next steps will involve a joint effort at all levels of government to ensure that the modest, steady growth in real resources required by the plan is a reality.