The Contra Costa Transportation Authority is a rare government agency. Its projects generally are completed on budget and on time. Its officials encourage public feedback on how its money is spent, and its decisions seem to be prudent. It's sort of like Caltrans turned inside-out.

The agency created 26 years ago by countywide vote deserves much of the credit for Caldecott Tunnel's fourth bore, the widening of Highway 4 and the forthcoming East County extension of BART service. The question of the moment, though, is what projects should come next. That was the reason for last week's public workshop in Walnut Creek.

Martin Engelmann, deputy executive director of planning, began by explaining that the county's population is expected to grow by 280,000 over the next 25 years, and deciding how to get more people from here to there is the reason for the Countywide Transportation Plan.

The CCTA, he said, has identified about $11.6 billion in needs -- public transit, road repairs, bicycle and pedestrian paths -- over a time period when only $4.6 billion in revenue is expected to come in. But before wringing its hands over funding, the agency wants to hear the public's priorities.


Advertisement

Only about three dozen attendees dotted the 70 chairs at the Civic Park Community Center, but they clearly were involved residents, because nearly all of them spoke. They made many pleas for better bus service and several for improved bike paths. They lamented the abundance of single-occupied cars on roadways and impatient drivers. They asked for satellite parking lots with shuttle service to BART stations, better sidewalk maintenance, more incentives for carpooling and -- did we mention this? -- better bus service.

Several people said they biked to the meeting. Some said they bike to work. One man said he bikes for any trip of 10 miles or less. I felt like hiding my car keys.

These were serious-minded people with heartfelt beliefs, so deeply committed to reducing the number of cars on roads they occasionally lapsed into overstatement.

"I drive from Concord to San Ramon, and it takes me 60 minutes to go 18 miles," one man said. "That's about 3 miles an hour."

Eighteen miles in 60 minutes usually works out to 18 mph. But we get your point.

"Expanding the number of lanes on highways creates a phenomenon called 'induced demand,' so more cars will start driving on them," another speaker warned.

Maybe we should build more chapels so we get more churchgoers and more storm drains so we get more rain.

If the arguments were sometimes suspect, the sentiments were real. People spoke because they're concerned about overcrowded streets and traffic jams. They don't want a future filled with idling cars spewing exhaust while backed up at red lights.

Engelmann said he was surprised at the emphasis on buses -- CCTA contributes some funding, but has no control over routes -- but was fully prepared for cycling enthusiasts. "We've always gotten a lot of feedback on the need for more bike facilities," he said.

The information gathered at public meetings like this, and from an online survey (www.ccta.net), will help shape the transportation planning of tomorrow. The CCTA thinks taxpayers should have a voice in how transportation sales taxes are spent.

What a novel concept.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.