The Merced County Association of Governments' effort to determine how it will spend transportation funds for the next 27 years began in Los Banos on Wednesday.
Matt Fell, MCAG's transportation manager, held a workshop for public input on the Regional Transportation Plan. The plan will determine what improvements and which projects receive funding priority through 2040. The plan, in its beginning stages, is based on growth patterns in the county, state goals and community input.
"We look at all modes of transportation," Fell said. "Traditionally, we're focused on major roadway improvements, (but) we look at the bus system, the bicycle and pedestrian system. The purpose of the plan is to document what all those needs are and prioritize which improvements we should do."
Fell said representatives from the six cities in the county and the Board of Supervisors have requested the regional plan follow the general plans of the respective jurisdictions.
At the workshop, the nearly 20 attendees told Fell road maintenance should be the category in which MCAG spends the bulk of its transportation dollars. Other options presented by Fell included road safety, bus transportation and bike and pedestrian paths.
Fell said the plan will make MCAG's priorities the Atwater-Merced expressway, Highway 152 bypass and widening of Highway 99 from Livingston to Stanislaus County.
Fell said the list could be altered depending on state and local funding sources.
"We're actually anticipating that we're going to be getting less money. It's possible that list may be cut down to just the bypass," Fell said.
Planning Commissioner Arkady Faktorovich asked Fell whether the plan will address a reduction of cars on the road. Faktorovich said he has attended conferences where decreasing pollution through reduction of car trips has been a major topic.
Fell said the state has set targets it wants Merced County to meet.
"One of the things we have to do in our plan is look at growth and transportation. One of the aspects of our plans is to look at what greenhouse gas emissions we can expect," Fell said.
He said there are targets the state wants the county to achieve, but there is no penalty if the county falls short.
"The state's not forcing anybody to do anything right now. The state does not have any power over the land-use authority," Fell said.
Attendees were skeptical of there not being penalties for greenhouse emissions higher than the state target.
Fell will hold four more workshops on the Regional Transportation Plan in cities throughout Merced County during the remainder of the month.
He said the plan is scheduled to be drafted in August and approved during the fall.