Southern California Association of Governments adopts strong sustainability plan

By Robbie Webber

Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), representing more than 18 million people in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties, voted unanimously on April 3 to adopt a transportation plan that focuses on transit and sustainability.  A new state law requires that transportation planning result in a reduction in greenhouse gases. The new Regional Transportation Plan, which will guide transportation investment and planning for the next 25 years, signals a significant change in emphasis in a region notorious for clogged freeways and the worst air quality in the nation. After consulting with 191 cities in the area and reacting to citizen input,  for the first time land use and planning for housing and jobs near transit figure prominently in the RTP.

SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata played up the significance. “Fifteen years ago when I was working here in this region, I couldn’t tell you we had many choices, the car was it. Now, we do have choices.”

A poll in November showed that voters favor road maintenance, improved walking and biking facilities, more housing near transit, and transit investments over roadway expansion.  The same poll found that respondents felt capacity expansion was an ineffective way to address congestion. The public health community also pushed for a plan that would encourage active transportation and improve air quality.

Despite the change in strategy, South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti, whose city has been locked in a long battle over an extension of Interstate 710, said it still places too much emphasis on freeways. “We’re just saying before you do any old outmoded highway projects, especially as people are getting older and don’t want to drive, first implement and build mass transit projects.”

However, the plan will not have entirely smooth sailing in the future. Financing is still uncertain. Peter Herzog, head of the Orange County Council of Governments, said, “Of the 524 billion they want to spend there’s about 290 billion that aren’t there. They have to find that amount of new money to make the plan that they currently have work.”

Robbie Webber is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI. She can be reached at RWebber@ssti.us.