Steve Kinsey on Congestion Management in Marin

An Interview by Wes Starratt, Senior Writer

Published: April, 2003

Steve Kinsey is a member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors; Chair, Marin County Congestion Management Agency; and recently elected Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.


BC: As chairperson of the Marin County Congestion Management Agency (CMA), would you comment on a recent letter from Water Transit Authority (WTA) to CMA that called attention to the unmet funding for new ferries for Marin County, since the county will not be eligible for funds from the proposed toll increase on state-owned bridges, and since the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District has no funding plans for the long-term-expansion of ferry service.

"Marin County is strongly supportive of ferry service. We are the shining light of what ferry service can do on the Bay. As for what we can do as a county for the expansion of ferry service, we have been very active in promoting additional ferry terminal sites, both at San Quentin and Port Sonoma.

"The role that I see for the county’s local sales tax is to support ferry service from the land side, not from the water side. By supporting the ferries from the landside, I mean first and foremost creating strong access to our ferry terminals. Over the long term, the other thing that we can continue is to promote the development of our rail program, because if we can create a rail program that extends to a ferry terminal, then we will be providing a dramatic market for ferry expansion.

"The reality is that Marin County voters have said to us in surveys that we have taken in 1998 and 2001 that, although they recognize transportation as a regional problem, they are very protective of their local ‘self-help’ dollars, and want to see those dollars spent on services within Marin County. That means that we can make our contribution by getting people to the ferry."

BC: Would you comment on the editorial in the March 8th issue of the Marin Independent Journal which was critical of the Water Transit Authority for not including funding for Marin County ferry service in the proposed increase in tolls on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which is, of course, used extensively by Marin commuters.

"Senator Perata created the Water Transit Authority (WTA) with an eye toward having it do the front-end work, while he felt that it was his job to find the funding. His Regional Measure 2 for adding a third dollar to the tolls on state-owned bridges was his version of doing just that. All of the counties and transit agencies have had an opportunity to participate in developing the expenditures and recommendations. But, we are only at the starting point, because once that list is developed and publicly presented in the legislation, then it’s good old-fashioned politicking to see what stays on and what is added. The WTA wasn’t the only transit agency to ask for toll money. Among others, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) asked for money and is a potential recipient of $35 million from the bridge toll increase.

"Marin County was not well served by Regional Measure 1 that put the first dollar on bridge tolls in 1988. So, I think that we are due more in Measure 2. A large number of our residents use the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, as well as people moving through Marin County on our highways. So, yes, I think that we are due more dollars, and would like to see some funding for ferries in Marin County. But , if I look at the system as a whole, I think that water transit around the Bay is being given a fare shake by Regional Bridge Toll Measure 2."

BC That same editorial in the March 8th Marin IJ was also critical of the Water Transit Authority for down-playing a potential ferry terminal to serve northern Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties from Port Sonoma at the mouth of the Petaluma River. To quote the editorial, "Two years ago, when the Water Transit Authority was just getting started, Marin officials had to force the agency to include the possibility of a Port Sonoma ferry service in its version for launching ferries Bay Area-wide." What is your comment on the apparent lack of enthusiasm for Port Sonoma?

"I respect the fact that people in Novato, in particular, feel that Port Sonoma is an especially important opportunity. But I have mixed feelings about it myself. I think that the SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) railroad does need to get to a ferry. The most expedient route would be to the Larkspur ferry, but at this time the politics of Larkspur do not support making the ferry terminal the terminus for the SMART rail line. It would be outstanding to get the rail line to go to a transit hub at San Quentin, and I am working as hard as I can to get that to happen. But, even under the best scenarios, it’s a question mark. So, I think that its not an unreasonable thought to say let’s not let go of Port Sonoma as another point at which the SMART railroad could come into contact with a ferry.

"My general attitude about transit connector sites is that they are best suited for a mixed-use, transit-oriented development in active urban areas rather than in rural outposts. Given the land-use constraints of the Port Sonoma site and the enormous opposition from the environmental community, I think Port Sonoma is a long shot. But if you handicap Larkspur and San Quentin, neither of which looks very promising for rail service, then you could turn to ferry service connected to buses, and I think Larkspur continues to be an outstanding ferry site with improving bus access.

"In all fairness to the WTA, we have been advised that the WTA "did succeed in getting funds allocated for environmental and planning studies of the proposed Port Sonoma ferry service."

BC: Let’s turn to the proposed Marin sales tax measure and some of the priorities that are being suggested by the Marin Congestion Management Agency (CMA) of which you are the chairperson.

"Actually, we are not quite there. At our March meeting, the CMA adopted ‘A Vision of the Future,’ a sustainable transportation system that promotes mobility and maintains quality of life. It is a 25-year vision that is not fiscally constrained, since we cannot yet identify all of the funding. Now that we have that ‘vision,’ we can establish priorities for implementation, and determine the role of sales tax money. Keep in mind that very few transportation projects are funded from a single source; so, you have to think of all of the funding sources working together.

"In Marin County, local residents are saying that, while recognizing that solving local transportation problems is a regional issue, they want to see local sales-tax dollars spent for local projects. So, I think that our CMA is first going to make a commitment that our future money from STIP (the State Transportation Improvement Program, the largest source of federal and state dollars, largely based on gasoline taxes) will be used for HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes on Highway 101 for express buses and car-pool vehicles, and for highway interchange improvements.

"At a later stage, we are going to turn to local sales tax dollars. "We have learned that one way to get significant support for local sales tax measures is to provide local flexibility in the use those dollars. We will return of a portion of these funds to local communities to give them a chance to decide how best to invest them. We are also going to see a portion of the money go to our highly successful national model program, ‘Safe Routes to School, ‘ which addresses the fact that one of our biggest causes of congestion in the morning is the significant number of vehicles that are taking children to school.

"We are also going to have to commit ourselves to the redesign of our bus transit system, because we are on the verge of a complete collapse of the bus transit system in Marin County, due to the Golden Gate Bridge District’s financial problems. I think that we should use this crisis as an opportunity to come up with a more cost- effective, more environmentally friendly, and more community-scale bus transit system so that we don’t have 45-foot-long diesel buses, largely empty, rolling through our neighborhoods.

"In addition, there are certain arterial collector roads in the county where congestion is clearly a problem. We could target some of our investments to the most congested of those streets.

"CMA will begin discussing these options at its March meeting, and working over the next several months to refine them. Then, we will be sending a draft out to the broader community for review and comments.

"Things that we know that we will not have in this sales tax measure include anything about rail, since SMART has its own funding capabilities, and anything about land use. You couldn’t buy enough land to have a true impact on congestion. And I am pleased that the Marin Conservation League, at my request, has reversed its previous stand on the use of transportation funding for land us acquisition."

BC: What about sales tax timing and changes in voting requirements?

"Since CMA has yet to agree on the sales tax measure, and since we are compounding the problem with a war and a very weak economy, I think that you conclude that it is a real long shot for the November ballot, but I would be surprised if we hadn’t gone to the voters by 2004, either in March or November.

"The other thing is that, with the collapse of the state budget, there may be a possibility to get a constitutional amendment to reduce voting requirements for transportation sales taxes from a super two- thirds majority down to a simple majority or a 55% majority as covered by Senate Constitutional Amendment 2 and Assembly Amendment 4 currently in the state legislature. We absolutely need to create a situation where a significant majority of the people can get something done. The two-thirds requirement is virtually unachievable. Right now there are no Republicans that have signed on to the idea, and I think that it going to take a long, hot summer, and a lot of pressure before any of them will."

BC: What about being elected Chairperson of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission?

"I am looking forward to the opportunity to serve MTC. It is a challenging time with the reauthorization of TEA-21 by the Congress (Transportation Equity Act, the Federal program for transportation), as well as a number of opportunities that we face to create a more connected Bay Area transit system. That’s really my goal.

"I just came back from Washington, where I was advocating an expansion of the Ferry Discretional Program, which currently provides just under $40 million per year for ferry programs in Alaska, the State of Washington, and New York City. San Francisco has always come in the ‘runner-up’ status. If we could grow the pie to $75 million, I feel confident that San Francisco would get its fair share.

"MTC has the authority to increase the regional gasoline tax up to ten cents per gallon, and we could put that on the ballot anytime between now and the year 2007. But, all of our polling a couple of years ago suggests that the public is very protective of the gasoline price. At that time, the break point of what we thought we could get was only a couple of pennies. As the economy revives, however, I think that people might be in a better frame of mind for solutions, and may be willing to fund a better break. Over the course of the next year, we will be having some dialogue with folks about this question.

"Money is just the vehicle; what people want is a better connected transportation system. When I talk about connectivity, I think about things like MTC’s TransLink Program where we have a universal card for use on many transit systems, and MTC’s voice-activated Dial-511 transportation information system.

"We are also doing some connectivity studies to look at how the different transit agencies come together and what we can do to create a seamless transfer for travelers. We also have, which is an online transit planner. So, those are the kind of things that we are working on to make our existing transit agencies more effective in serving the public."