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The Columbia Area Long-Range Transportation Plan

November 17, 2019

Dear Constituent:

Columbia's Long-Range Transportation Plan programs about 1.3 billion dollars of taxpayers' money over the next 30 years (more than $40 million per year), and yet voters have virtually no input in the process. With the latest update to the plan, which stretches out to 2050, scheduled for potential adoption in just over two weeks, I feel it is imperative to provide constituents with information about important government decisions that have enormous consequences for the Columbia area.

What is the CATSO LRTP?

Let's start by getting the acronyms out of the way.

CATSO is the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization - an immensely powerful body made up almost entirely of professional transportation planners and engineers with the City of Columbia, Boone County, and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Mayor Brian Treece and Commissioner Dan Atwill are the only CATSO members who represent voters, and neither of them attends meetings regularly.

The LRTP is the Long-Range Transportation Plan, which CATSO is required by federal policy to update every five years in return for its authority to program tens of millions of taxpayer dollars annually. The update is happening right now, and the CATSO Coordinating Committee is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt the new version on Thursday, December 5th at 2:30 pm at City Hall.

LRTP Update (August, 2019 Version)

CATSO staff (who work within the City of Columbia's Community Development Department) developed an initial draft of the "2050 LRTP Update" this summer.

It includes a table of "Goals, Objectives, and Performance Measures" which most of us would support. Here are a few examples of the goals and objectives:

  • The Columbia Metropolitan Planning Area (MPA) will have a first-class street, highway and non-motorized network
  • The public transportation system will be a viable transportation option throughout the MPA
  • Invest in and preserve the existing transportation system
  • Reduce reliance on automobile travel and better serve those who do not or cannot own and drive an automobile
  • Reduce injuries, fatalities and property damage for all modes of transportation with the Vision Zero Plan as the model
  • Encourage compact and infill development and redevelopment in under-invested areas
  • Support an open, inclusive and participatory transportation planning process

Unfortunately, the actual 140-page draft plan bears little resemblance to these aspirational goals and objectives. The planning process is neither open nor inclusive, there are no strategies to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and no plans to make the public transportation system viable. In August, the PedNet Coalition developed a comprehensive analysis of the initial draft, pointing out dozens of discrepancies between the plan and its purported goals and objectives.

At about the same time, I worked with PedNet leaders to request a truly open and inclusive public input meeting that would be announced to a broader audience, take place at a convenient time for working people, and give participants an authentic opportunity to review the draft plan and provide informed feedback. CATSO staff agreed to organize the meeting, which was held in mid-September and was attended by about 40 Columbia and Boone County residents with an interest in the way Columbia's transportation system should develop in the future.

As a result of the feedback received, some significant amendments were made to the draft plan, deleting $47 million previously programmed for highway construction/expansion and adding $17 million in projects to improve pedestrian/bicycle access and safety - as described in this November 7 CATSO Staff Memo.

LRTP Update (November, 2019 Version)

The revised 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan Update - dubbed the "Public Review Draft" - was posted a few days ago.

Although this version will be presented to the CATSO Coordinating Committee on December 5th without any further edits, CATSO staff continue to accept public comments, all of which will be provided (with names redacted) to the Committee in the form of an addendum sheet. To make sure your voice is heard, please review the latest version of the plan and then email your comments to CATSO planning staff.

I have not yet had a chance to study the revised version in depth, but I note that the following highway expansion projects are still listed:

  • Scott Boulevard northward extension from Broadway to I-70: $81,000,000
  • Stadium Boulevard eastward extension from Highway 63 to I-70: $80,500,000
  • I-70 Drive SW westward extension from Sorrell's Overpass across Perche Creek to West Van Horn Tavern Road: $30,900,994
  • West Broadway westward extension from Scott Boulevard across Perche Creek to Route UU: $20,000,000
  • Forum Boulevard widening from Chapel Hill Road to Woodrail Avenue: $15,619,398
  • Brown School Road widening from Providence Road to State Highway 763: $13,795,945
  • New Haven Road widening from Lemone Industrial Boulevard to South Warren Drive: $6,441,738
  • Discovery Parkway north-westward extension from Gans Road to New Haven Road: $5,900,726

If these eight projects are constructed, taxpayers will spend a quarter of a billion dollars to build or widen a total of less than ten miles of highway. At a time when the City's priorities focus on fiscal responsibility, reducing climate impacts, increasing social equity, and improving traffic safety, I believe this proposal needs a lot of public scrutiny.

Please email your comments to CATSO planning staff or send them to me and I'll make sure they are included in the discussion on December 5th.

The Paradox of Induced Traffic

The most common justification for highway system expansion projects is to reduce traffic congestion. While the goal makes sense, the strategy is flawed, as there is solid evidence that "we cannot build our way out of congestion" and "the ways we traditionally go about trying to mitigate jams are essentially fruitless," to quote from an article in WIRED magazine.

In What's Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse?, commentator Adam Mann describes a fundamental law of observed human behavior and road congestion - as governments spend billions to build additional highway capacity, people tend to drive more and make less efficient trips, thereby filling up the extra capacity almost immediately.

Effective and affordable approaches to mitigate traffic jams include congestion pricing, improvements in public transit level of service, and travel demand management programs.

Missoula's LRTP

Finally, please spend a few minutes skimming through the Missoula, Montana Long-Range Transportation Plan. Not only is this document written and illustrated in a way that makes it accessible to ordinary people, it also includes specific mode-shift goals with corresponding funding strategies designed to reduce automobile trips and increase walking, bicycling, and transit (see pages 86 and 87).

Constituent Conversations

My next Constituent Conversations will be on Sundays, December 1st and 15th, 2-4pm at Dunn Bros. Coffee (upcoming dates are always available at the contact page on my website.) And your coffee and tea are always on me - just mention that you're visiting with Councilman Thomas, and the staff will put your drinks on my account!

Cheers, Ian