Stop and Go
With federal funding in limbo, Monterey-Salinas Transit remaps its route into a bumpy future.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
A lit-up arrow directs traffic around a trench in the concrete in front of Turtle Bay Taqueria on Seaside’s Fremont Boulevard. The construction is for Monterey-Salinas Transit’s “Jazz” line to Cannery Row, but it was supposed to be done in September.
The line is about two-thirds complete and segments of it are open, but the construction is off schedule due to a number of delays, including the accidental death in June of contractor Graniterock’s CEO, the auto-crash injury of the project’s custom-concrete expert and the heart attack of an electrician.
“Star-crossed is a polite way to put it,” MST General Manager and CEO Carl Sedoryk says.
The $4.8 million “Jazz” bus-rapid transit line, designed to travel 6.75 miles from Sand City to Cannery Row in three-quarters the time of a typical bus trip, broke ground last June.
The theme is woven into the bus shelters, each representing a year of the Monterey Jazz Festival from 1958-1986; QR codes on the shelters link to recordings of live Jazz Fest performances from those years. Other high-tech elements: transit signal prioritization to extend green lights for buses, quicker wheelchair boarding, fare swipe cards and queue-jump lanes allowing buses to move around slow traffic.
“The whole idea is to make the bus move more quickly than the general traffic so it’ll be more attractive,” Sedoryk says. “During construction it’s hard to see that.”
Jazz line work began in Seaside after New Year’s, but it’s now in a holding pattern due to unexpected obstructions from electrical infrastructure.
“There’s been a few issues they’ve run into, but they’re kind of typical,” City Engineer Tim O’Halloran says. “It’s not causing a lot of disruption to the traffic flow on Fremont.”
The new target completion date is April 5, in time for the Jazz Fest’s Next Generation Festival – “short of some new delay,” Sedoryk says.
The Jazz line’s sluggish pace isn’t the worst of MST’s problems. The agency’s also facing looming service cuts in a statewide standoff over transit-employee pensions.
MST is fighting a challenge to its operations funding from international unions. A deal struck in December allows the transit agency to keep $3.2 million in fall grant funding, but the January implementation of California’s Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) will likely bring the problem back with MST’s next round of federal grants, $3.5 million due in April.
“We don’t see any reason to believe this grant won’t be challenged as well,” Sedoryk says, “and we will find ourselves in a cash bind.”
The transportation unions argue PEPRA limits their collective bargaining rights, and the U.S. Department of Labor tends to agree. In other words, by complying with the state law capping public pensions, California transit agencies may be breaking federal labor law. That could stop the flow of federal dollars, which comprise about 30 percent of MST’s funding – including driver salaries.
Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, has introduced a bill to release the federal transit funding. AB 160 would exempt transit employees from PEPRA, allowing unions to bargain for more generous pensions. “When we’re at risk of losing $2 billion in transportation money, it’s a critical issue for me and the state,” Alejo says.
If the matter is not resolved, Sedoryk is steeling for a 30-percent hit to MST’s funding. The agency is now planning a series of public workshops inviting riders to weigh in on potential service cuts.
“We feel it’s in everybody’s best interest to prepare for the worst,” he says.