Green Light, Go
Wagner, Irvine’s newly elected mayor, put the issue of traffic on the agenda for the Jan. 10 city council session. His list of actions was extended with an amendment offered by new councilmember Melissa Fox, and the package was unanimously approved by Wagner, Fox and councilmembers Christina Shea and Lynn Schott. Councilmember Jeff Lalloway was ill and not present at the session.
Wagner’s proposals approved during the session included: Reinstating the city’s Transportation Commission to “be tasked with thoroughly evaluating development proposals to ensure that any impact to traffic as a result of the proposed development is appropriately mitigated, monitoring progress of traffic capital projects, reviewing and providing input on multi-jurisdictional signal coordination and local arterial efforts and providing guidance on transit planning and traffic safety matters;” and recruiting a transportation manager “to oversee all aspects of transportation matters, including traffic management and transit planning.”
The recruitment effort to fill the position of Transportation Manager was immediately initiated, as Wagner requested. The online job listing states that, “The city of Irvine is seeking an innovative and highly accomplished professional to serve as the city’s Transportation Manager. Reporting to the Public Works Director, the manager will oversee all aspects of transportation matters, including traffic management and transit planning, and serve as the staff liaison to the newly created City Transportation Commission.”
The salary range for the position is listed as $103,376.00 - $161,054.00 annually. Wagner also indicated that the position should be filled using an existing vacant full-time position to “maintain the city’s budgeted position count.”
Wagner’s request that city staff develop estimates for scope and cost for specific traffic initiatives was also approved, including:
- A pilot project along an Irvine corridor to “enable immediate real-time signal timing adjustments based on detection of traffic volumes to provide appropriate signal green time to the direction in need;”
- Develop a plan to enhance transit routes via a new community shuttle circulator throughout the core of the city “offering an alternative to single occupancy trips for Irvine residents;”
- Develop a plan to promote active transportation, ridesharing and “a community outreach program promoting nontraditional business practices such as staggered business hours or non-peek delivery periods, alternatives to commuter and recreational vehicle trips, and/or bicycling and walking alternatives, including incentives for participating businesses and organizations.”
During the cordial and collegial discussion of Wagner’s traffic initiatives, Councilmember Fox raised an innovative idea to explore the possibility of transportation grants that may have been overlooked, including pursuing grants from the settlement monies Volkswagen has been ordered to pay for cheating U.S. vehicle emissions tests.
As Fox pointed out, a total of $4.7 billion may be available and “states, cities, and tribes can use [these funds] to expand alternative vehicle projects and access to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). Cities can play a key role, starting now, by identifying local emissions-cutting and zero-emission vehicle deployment projects that could benefit from increased investment and proposing ideas to states and Volkswagen about ways these funds can best be leveraged,” according to information in the Volkswagen Settlement Funding: What Cities Should Know publication.
Fox’s idea was quickly approved, resulting in an additional directive to the city manager to pursue “transportation grants and funding opportunities, including but not limited to active transportation and low emission projects.”
The traffic improvement measures approved at the January city council meeting are in addition to traffic improvement projects currently underway, approved or planned.
- Improvements that must be completed no later than June 30, 2017 include:
- Protected/permissive left-turn phasing at a minimum of six intersections;
- Working with the state government to improve signal timing around freeway ramps;
- Installing video systems to detect pedestrians and bicyclists instead of traffic detectors in the pavement; Reaching agreement with Orange County Transportation Authority to add two new iShuttle commuter routes in the IBC and Spectrum.
The city also plans to spend $116.5 million on 17 additional traffic improvement projects, including:
- Widening of University Dr. near UCI to commence by the end of 2017;
- Widening of Jamboree Rd. between Main Street and Barranca, to begin sometime in 2018;
- Building a pedestrian bridge over Jamboree Road at Michelson Dr.
Councilmember Shea and others also noted that they’d like to see estimates of ROI (return on investment) for traffic initiatives, indicating where possible how much improvement traffic-specific projects would bring to drivers in the city. Councilmembers and comments from the public indicated that improvements are likely to be incremental: there is no “magic bullet” to resolve congestion in the modern, vibrant and economically powerful city that Irvine has become.