On Tuesday, March 22, the Tulare County Association of Governments met at the Visalia Convention Center for its regular monthly meeting. The site rotates monthly but the agenda usually includes staff updates on several ongoing projects, the TCAG director’s report, Tulare County water commission report, and an update from the San Joaquin Valley Policy Council.
Transportation planning— At the March 22 meeting, the agenda also included an annual public hearing on unmet transit needs required under the tenets of the Transportation Act. In past unmet needs public hearings, the speakers would form a long line waiting to speak.
This year only four people spoke. One complimented the TCAG board for doing a great job meeting local needs; three other speakers offered suggestions on how to better link existing service.
One of these speakers expressed how difficult it was to transfer busses to get from Porterville to Visalia and back. Two others asked TCAG to improve connecting service from Amtrak in Hanford to Visalia and to make better use of Sequoia Shuttle to Sequoia National Park and from Visalia during the busy summer season.
“I think the reason there are less comments about unmet needs is that we [TCAG] are doing a better job of collaboration between the cities and the county,” said Ben Kimball, deputy director of TCAG. “TCAG planners come up with an eight-year plan of potential projects. The goal is that within that eight-year cycle all players get a project.”
About TCAG— The TCAG board is currently composed of all five county supervisors, representatives from all eight incorporated cities, two at-large members, and a Cal Trans representative. Each board member routinely appoints an alternate who also attends but doesn’t vote.
One at-large member seat, who can be a resident from anywhere in Tulare County, is currently vacant. TCAG staff has been seeking applications for the vacancy since January.
Three Rivers projects… or not— When asked why there are no current local Kaweah Country projects, Kimball said TCAG has not received any proposals for Three Rivers. With no local representatives on the TCAG board, it is up to the county supervisor to be the advocate for potential projects in the area.
Supervisor Ishida has been instrumental in getting some Measure R funds utilized in Three Rivers for the Cherokee Oaks bridge replacement (2013), Grouse Valley Road bridge replacement (2011), and some necessary road repairs. Measure R funds, collected from a former voter–approved half-cent sales tax (2006) amounts to about $25 million annually.
There is always a waiting list for those dollars so make a suggestion and get in line, Kimball said.
“There are several pots of money available so we prioritize the spending of the funds based on criteria of need,” Kimball said. “The biggest share goes to regional projects like the widening of Highway 99.”
Communities can present a CMAQ-qualifying (Congestion, Mitigation, Air Quality) project that can be funded in its entirety with federal grants. Examples of current CMAQ projects are the roundabouts being constructed in Woodlake and Farmersville.
Three Rivers, a gateway community to a national park, could also qualify for a federal grant program. The best way to make a local project happen is advocate a project with the TCAG board.
Walking and biking— Transit projects that qualify for Measure R funding include bikeways and trails. There is currently a plan entitled Walk ‘n Bike Tulare County that is available for public comment.
TCAG wants to hear the thoughts and opinions of Tulare County residents on the Walk ‘n Bike plan. View the plan at www.tularecog.org/activetransportation and submit comments to Roberto Brady (TCAG principal regional planner): RBrady@tularecog.org; or TCAG, 210 N. Church St., Suite B, Visalia, CA 93291; or (559) 623-0451.
Current proposals— The TCAG plan proposes $107 million worth of projects: 69 priority pedestrian and bicycle projects selected by the County for unincorporated towns and by each of the eight cities. The projects include new sidewalks, safer street crossings, trails, and on-street bikeways. Many of the projects have a focus on making it safer for children to walk and bike to school.
There is not a single mention of Three Rivers in the plan.