Created by the California Legislature in 1970, MTC held its first meeting in February of 1971 and celebrated its 45th year of service in 2015-16. Initially, MTC was largely focused on planning for the expansion of the region's transportation network. In the ensuing years, lawmakers in Sacramento and D.C. have given the agency broad powers involving the planning, financing, coordination and management of transportation. MTC's mission continues to evolve with the times, with a recent emphasis on syncing transportation investments with housing and development.
As the 1960s drew to a close, the Bay Area was perched on a new era of change and growth. While construction was booming above the streets of San Francisco's Financial District, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, known far and wide as BART, was tunneling underneath — the first of a new generation of rapid rail systems in the U.S. The initial 71.5 miles of track extended the length of San Francisco and reached across the Bay to Oakland and Berkeley, and through the East Bay Hills to bedroom communities in Contra Costa County.
In the midst of this activity, a farsighted state assemblyman, John Foran of San Francisco, drafted and led to passage in 1970 a bill creating the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, or MTC. Referred to as the "Father of MTC," Foran saw the need for a regional agency to help integrate feeder bus and rail systems with the fledgling BART system. MTC also was envisioned as a force for shifting away from a highway-centric vision for the region and toward a more balanced, multimodal and environmentally sensitive approach.
Initially, MTC was charged with regional transportation planning and reviewing applications from local entities for certain state and federal transportation grants. Subsequent actions at both the state and federal levels have expanded MTC's roles and funding powers exponentially. MTC directly distributes more than $700 million a year to local public transit agencies and other recipients, and prioritizes requests from local agencies for millions more in scarce state and federal funds. Acting as the Bay Area Toll Authority, MTC collects in excess of $600 million a year in bridge tolls, and allocates these funds for the operation and upkeep of the region's seven state-owned toll bridges.
A watershed moment in MTC's evolution was passage by Congress in 1991 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA, which greatly expanded the role of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) like MTC in deciding how to spend federal transportation dollars at the regional and local levels. Subsequent interations of the federal "authorizing" legislation have perpetuated this enhanced role for MTC. More recently, passage by the state Legislature of Senate Bill 375 in 2008 imposed on MTC and sister agencies around the state new roles with regard to building sustainable communities.
In honor of its 40th anniversary, MTC in 2011 launched an oral history project, interviewing on camera some two dozen key figures in the evolution of regionalism. The video below provides an overview of the "Birth of Regionalism"; to see the full interviews, go to our YouTube channel.
MTC's first offices were at the historic Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, where the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) — a regional organization involved with guiding land use — was also housed. In the mid-1980s, the two sister agencies jointly moved to a more spacious and convenient home in downtown Oakland, the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter, located at the Lake Merritt BART station. This facility served the two agencies well for more than 25 years, but growing duties and staffs and a new state imperative for greater regional collaboration (embodied in Senate Bill 375 of 2008) prompted a decision to create a new regional agency headquarters in downtown San Francisco.
The Bay Area MetroCenter, a renovated 1940s-era warehouse (and later, a postal facility) opened in 2016 in the city's booming South of Market/Rincon Hill area. The address, 375 Beale Street, is a nod to the bill that inspired this innovative experiment in good government. The facility is just blocks from the stunning Transbay Terminal that serves nine local and intercounty transit systems.
A San Francisco native and graduate of the University of San Francisco Law School, John Francis Foran was elected to the State Assembly in 1962. A Democrat, he served 11 years in that position, and as many years in the State Senate. He was the first legislator to serve as chairman of the Transportation Committee in both the California Assembly and Senate.
Foran authored numerous bills that tremendously improved the state’s transportation system, including Assembly Bill 363, which gave birth to MTC in 1970 — earning him the "Father of MTC" designation. Foran was also responsible for the bill that permitted MTC to use bridge toll revenues to improve transit systems in the bridge corridors, and for a gas tax that generated $2–3 billion for state and local roads in the 1980s. He authored the state Pure Air Act in 1968, which was later adapted by Congress as the Federal Clean Air Act. He is also to thank for the expansion of the Golden Gate Bridge District’s mission to include bus and ferry service.
Upon Foran's retirement from the Legislature, MTC in 1986 honored him by creating the John Francis Foran Legislative Award, which is given as part of MTC's biennial Transportation Awards Program to a lawmaker who has had a major positive impact on transportation policy and delivery. Around the same time, state officials named a stretch of Interstate 280 in San Francisco in honor of Foran. After leaving the Legislature, Foran worked as a lobbyist for MTC, passing away in September 2014 at the age of 84 after battling cancer.