Another View: 2009: Protecting taxpayers and delivering transportation improvements in Placer County

By: Keith Nesbitt, Chairman, Placer County Transportation Planning Agency
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2009 has been a tough year. How often do you hear someone in government say that taxpayers got more for their money? Well, if you live in Placer County, you did in terms of transportation improvements! As chair of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA), I have been honored to be on a team that has used visionary planning, creative thinking and good timing to keep over $400 million of major infrastructure projects on track – no small feat in these tough economic times. These transportation projects have put people to work, while simultaneously improving our quality of life in Placer County. Moreover, a focus on efficiency has made our dollars go further than we could have imagined. Let me be specific. The Interstate 80 Expansion, also known as the Bottleneck project, moved forward with impressive speed in 2009. All year, work has proceeded on Phase 2, which is widening I-80 between Riverside Avenue and Eureka Road. In September, we held a groundbreaking celebration for the final phase of construction that will widen I-80 between Eureka Road east past Highway 65. When these projects are completed in early 2011, residents will enjoy reduced traffic times, and increased safety while traveling what was once considered the region’s most congested thoroughfare. What’s more impressive is that the total project costs are over $33 million lower than original estimates. The local share of the money saved is being reinvested to jumpstart work on additional improvements to the I-80 corridor, including the Eureka Road, Rocklin Road and Highway 65 interchanges. Similarly, the Lincoln Bypass Phase 1 remains on budget and on schedule – in spite of facing suspension because the lack of a state budget prevented the release of bond funding allocated to the project. Once completed in early 2012, the Lincoln Bypass will provide a new 11.7 mile-long thoroughfare for Highway 65, improving safety and congestion. In addition to roadways, transit programs and services also impact Placer residents’ quality of life. PCTPA has worked diligently to protect public transportation from deepening cuts. As a board member of the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Authority, I can tell you that we have vowed to continue in our efforts to maximize commuter train ridership and on-time performance of rail service. In 2009, PCTPA created the Western Placer Consolidated Transit Services Agency, a Joint Powers Authority with the mission to provide transportation for the elderly and disabled who cannot use conventional transit options in Western Placer County. Using public-private partnerships with non-profits, the Agency has made scarce transit dollars go farther. PCTPA has also recently launched a “Transit Efficiency Initiative” to take a fresh look at how public transportation is provided across Placer County and determine how we might increase efficiency, improve services and encourage more ridership. These achievements are not the result of any one individual but rather a great team with a strong commitment to working together and getting things done. In Washington, D.C., Sacramento and here in Placer County, elected officials and community leaders have worked tirelessly to support our efforts. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the region’s former Congressman John Doolittle for his work in securing over $80 million in federal dollars for Interstate 80 and Lincoln Bypass. And while 2009 has been a strong year, we’ve not lost sight of our long-term priorities. Placer County is one of the state’s fastest growing areas, yet we’re one of the only major regions not to have a dedicated source of funding to maintain our transportation system. This puts us at risk of losing out on millions in federal and state dollars because we do not have matching funds. Fixing this problem is the next major priority, and we will be working with local residents, businesses and elected officials in the coming years to determine how best to sustain our progress and preserve our prosperity. As a resident, and as council member for the City of Auburn, and on behalf of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency, I want to wish you a safe holiday and mobile new year. Keith Nesbitt is an Auburn City Councilman and chairman of the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency.