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VTA Teams with Cities and Developers to Fight Traffic Congestion

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What happens when you add more people to an area without improving ways for them to get around? The answer is more traffic. Here's how VTA is working to fix that. 

As the Congestion Management Agency (CMA) for Santa Clara County it is VTA’s responsibility to help reduce traffic congestion across the county.  VTA is working with developers of office buildings, retail space and housing, and the cities where these projects are located, to alleviate some of the pressure these developments place on the transportation system.
 
Because of the continuing population growth in Silicon Valley, many development projects will contribute to the traffic on already congested freeways and expressways. While VTA is tasked with coming up with “solutions that move you,” solutions to fund those projects often need outside resources.
 
That’s where VTA’s Voluntary Contributions program comes in.  VTA initiated this program in 2013 to respond to a common problem: cities usually require mitigation measures for traffic on local streets, but not on regional facilities like freeways or transit lines. These regional impacts are often classified as “significant and unavoidable” because it would be too costly or impractical for a single development project to fully mitigate them. 
 
VTA’s program is unique among CMAs in California – and may be the first of its kind in the country - by addressing regional impacts of development through a voluntary public-private partnership. Through the program, local agencies (such as cities or the County) identify financial contributions to improvements of freeways, transit and other regional facilities as a way to offset traffic from proposed land development projects. These contributions are voluntary and separate from traffic fees and environmental mitigation measures that developers are required to provide, but they are a useful tool for agencies to consider when reviewing development projects.
 
Here’s how it works: VTA, in its role as the CMA reviews and comments on development projects for their effects on freeways, county expressways, key intersections, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and the transit system.  Then a local agency considering a development can suggest a financial contribution from the developer to be put toward transportation improvements near the development.

One example of Voluntary Contributions like this is in the City of Sunnyvale, where three projects, the NetApp Master Plan, Moffett Place and Moffett Gateway, were expected to have significant impacts on US 101 and SR 237.  Developers of those projects pledged funds which have been, or will be, used toward an Express Lane project on nearby SR 237.  Express Lanes allow solo drivers to pay for the use of traditional carpool lanes during certain hours when traffic is heaviest.
 
In other examples, the developer of the Coleman Highline project in San Jose contributed a portion of the funds to construct a pedestrian/bicycle under crossing of the Caltrain tracks near the Santa Clara Station, and Apple contributed funds towards improvements in the I-280 and Stevens Creek Boulevard corridors with the approval of their new campus in Cupertino.
 
Beyond the transportation benefits, the improvements from this program can help enhance overall mobility in Santa Clara County, allowing for an increase in business competitiveness, economic vitality, and quality of life.
 
This past year saw a dramatic increase in the amount of funding pledged through this Voluntary Contributions program, with over $35 million pledged in 2016 compared to about $6 million pledged in 2015.  A substantial portion of these funds were committed by the developer of City Place, across from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. In a typical year, VTA reviews more than 100 proposed developments, several dozen of which could warrant these types of Voluntary Contributions toward mobility improvements throughout Santa Clara County. VTA will continue to work proactively and leverage its relationships with local jurisdictions as new developments are proposed. 
 
This program is a testament to the vision and collaborative mindset of VTA’s partner agencies; they are not content to accept impacts as completely unavoidable, and recognize that solving part of the problem is better than solving none of it.   Through this program VTA, local agencies and developers choose to embrace good planning, and to collectively tackle traffic issues brought on by growth.  
 
VTA recently released its third "Development Review Annual Report" based on VTA’s review of proposed development and transportation projects throughout Santa Clara County in 2016.  This post is one of a series that highlights the main themes in the report, and emphasizes the critical link between transportation and land use in creating high-quality, sustainable communities.

Rob Swierk, VTA Principal Transportation Planner, contributed significantly to this post. The image in the body of the article shows the 237 Express Lanes Project, which has included Voluntary Contributions funding from several development projects.

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