Report to the Commission: March 25, 2020
It comes as no surprise that this report focuses primarily on MTC’s responses, actions and assistance related to the Coronavirus/COVID- 19 crisis impacting us all.
INTERNAL MTC OPERATIONS:
- On Friday March 13th, I issued a voluntary remote work directive to the staff; that was swiftly followed by a mandatory remote work directive on Monday March 16th in light of the six-county declared Shelter in Place orders. I am proud to say that advance work to refine an Alternative Work Policy over the last few months positioned the agency extremely well at being able to respond immediately and effectively to those circumstances.
- As evidenced today, we have been working to enable fully remote participation in Commission meetings, in line with the March 13th Executive Committee’s approval of amended Commission procedures allowing for remote participation in times of a Declared Emergency. Those went into effect immediately under the authority granted the Executive Committee. Full Commission adoption of those amended procedures is on the Commission agenda today.
- This week MTC activated its virtual emergency operations center (EOC) in response to the Covid-19 emergency.
MTC operates the EOC in accordance with the relevant MTC / regional plans and procedures developed with several state and regional partners to respond to various natural or man-made emergencies. Due to the nature of this emergency, the EOC is a partial activation and is expected to focus on the following tasks:
(1) disseminating information to the public through 511.org;
(2) establishing a regional joint information center;
(3) serving as regional transportation information clearinghouse - producing transportation summary reports that are distributed to our transportation partners, the county Departments of Emergency Management, California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), and federal transportation agencies;
(4) assisting transit operators in their efforts to secure financial aid for losses to date and continue operations
- On Friday, March 20th at 5:00 am, in a coordinated effort between BAIFA, ACTA, and VTA; all express lanes operating in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties were open to all traffic. In addition to the greatly reduced vehicle traffic in those corridors, it was deemed essential to discourage carpooling because of health driven “social distancing” measures; and to free up CHP enforcement resources to more critical needs during this time.
- On Friday March 20th at midnight BATA, in close coordination with Caltrans, temporarily suspended cash collection on all seven state owned bridges in the region. This was done in response to the Governor’s decision to remove staff from the seven toll plazas to minimize toll takers and toll paying customer’s exposure to COVID-19 during this public health crisis. In its initial days, the resultant temporary All Electric Tolling (AET) appears to be working smoothly, aided by greatly reduced traffic volumes across the bridges. BATA took action today approving me to enter into negotiations to amend our existing Cooperative Agreement with Caltrans to address details of how cash collection suspension will be administered.
- MTC led an intensive effort among the region’s transit operators to establish a platform advocating for significant financial relief as part of the emerging COVID-19 supplemental funding packages being debated by Congress this week. Together with our transit partners we presented compelling data on the impact of vast declines in ridership and fare revenue, significant cost increases arising from health protective measures, and expectant hits to local and state sales taxes essential to operating budgets. Key correspondence is attached.
- Due to budget limitations and related resource constraints, I determined that that college and high school summer internship programs would be suspended for one year. Among other things, this would allow for a comprehensive program reassessment, and design of potential improvements. This was discussed with the Policy Advisory Council at its March 11, 2020 meeting. In light of the sweeping school closures driven by the COVID-19 response, the suspension is timely—however, staff will be developing a plan to re-activate the program for next summer.
- As previously reported, MTC and other regional agencies were subject to very concerning impacts resulting from the Trump Administration’s “Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule” which, in part, withdrew a previously granted federal waiver allowing California to set certain vehicle emissions standards. That in turn invalidated the California Air Resources Board (CARB) air quality model needed for federal conformity determinations. At immediate issue was suspension of any actions to amend or update our Regional Transportation Plan (Plan Bay Area) or federal Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) requiring an air quality conformity analysis. This month, Environmental Protection Agency EPA approved CARB’s model adjustments, re-validating California’s Air Quality model. Although formal notice has not yet been released, we expect plans, programs and projects may now proceed through the air quality conformity for the time being, pending further restrictions attached to other elements of the SAFE rule.