Why High Occupancy Toll Lanes are not about Agenda 21

More proof that hard ideological positions can wreck a transit campaign...

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes south of the Ontario Airport.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or any public entity.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

A far political-right YouTube channel, under the name of grindal61 unfairly smeared the governing board of the San Bernardino Associated Governments earlier this month claiming that its proposal to add high occupancy toll lanes to the I-10 and I-15 freeways is about Agenda 21 and about forcing motorists out of their cars.

In addition, a Facebook page dubbed "TOLL Free IE" spearheaded by former candidate for the Fontana City Council Tressy Capps has taken a hard opposing position against the toll lane additions. The page has parroted some of the grindal61's videos.

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes through Temescal Canyon.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC.
A StreetBlog California post also analyzes the story. The writer is also not a fan of expanding lane miles in the sprawling Inland Empire, but the fact is the I-15 freeway corridor between the Cajon Pass and north San Diego County is car-centric and has positively no high occupancy vehicle lane or dedicated transit infrastructure, yet parades of private-sector buses and many other HOV's utilize the freeway. The new HOT lanes could address that problem if it supported free non-transponder carpooling. Ironically, the picture used in the blog post came from The Transit Coalition's "We want toll lanes done right" campaign page.

Also, Steve Hunt, Editor of the Hesperia Star, opines against toll lanes, but his position looks to be fact-based even though I disagree. More on that in a moment.

Freedom of Speech

Here in the country, every concerned citizen which includes Capps and the individual operating the social networking video channel must have the right to question any government proposal and must have the freedom to speak out their opinions. We all must have the right to support or oppose controversial proposals which include high occupancy toll lanes. If a concerned citizen provides solid facts, examples, and hard evidence, the deciding governing body should hear the speaker out and not stonewall or pander against the argument.

However, sometimes individual's statements can involve ideological spin or opinions disguised as facts. Such bland statements are often rightly dissented quickly and dismissed during the debate.

When baseless arguments go viral

However, with the rise of social networking and the internet, some false statements get mass exposure. Plus, Capps is a former candidate for an elected office which automatically gave her a loud voice in the court of public opinion. Thus, members of the public could automatically take a position without hearing the rest of the debate in an impartial way.

You may know on the opposite side of the political spectrum, LA's far political-left bus transit advocacy group known as the Bus Rider's Union became a giant voice simply because the leaders of the Labor Community Strategy Center make a lot money and have the resources to sell divisive ideological proposals to the good people of South Los Angeles.

But this type of unfair spin has got to stop from both sides because such bland arguments weaken campaigns.

Why controversial Inland Empire Toll Lanes are not about Agenda 21

Basically, grindal61 spread a false statement, saying the I-15 and I-10 Express Lane is not about free mobility but  really about getting private motorists out of their cars and that the SANBAG board is a pro-Agenda 21 pushing group supporting a climate change hoax. Capps later parroted that, even though the statements were untrue.

The considered I-15 Express Lanes and much of the I-10 Express Lanes alternative are proposed to be capacity improvement projects and not involve the conversion of any existing general purpose lanes whatsoever. The recent I-15 Express Lanes additions in San Diego County also involved additional lanes. Lane capacity and infrastructure supplies thus go up; that will mean more space for more cars. I don't recall seeing that in Agenda 21.

Yes, the existing carpool lane between Ontario and Montclair is slated to be converted in the process, but that is why the new HOT lanes need to support free non-transponder carpooling. If the dual carpool lanes get the "empty lane" syndrome, toll-paying solo drivers can buy their way into the HOV lanes which redistributes traffic from the general purpose lanes. Hence, more capacity for more cars, not less.

Does that sound like Agenda 21 to you?

Grindal61 is also not a fan of carpool lanes as evidenced in another video, at least carpool lanes that don't support continuous access.

Finally, the climate change issue is not a hoax. There is hard evidence that the Earth's temperature is changing. China continues to be a major global pollutant. However, scientists still have yet to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the temperature changes are all due to man-made pollution. Regardless of what your position is on global climate change, we should all work together to make the Earth cleaner.

Graphic: SANBAG
To be fair, Capps and Grindal61 do bring up some valid points such as the HOT lane bond debt, the privacy of FasTrak toll accounts, and the awful potential per-mile tax hike currently being explored by the state. Those points should not be thrown out with the lie.

The HOT lane infrastructure should be funded and not mired in long-term debt. All toll transactions must remain confidential between the paying motorist and the tolling agencies. The state must confront the public labor union lobby, get its spending and infrastructure costs under control and stop diverting transportation funds to other interests before I will back a wholesale transportation tax or fee hike.

Even though we have different views on toll lanes, Editor Hunt and I pretty much agree that the I-15 freeway corridor improvements need to be funded and paid for given the fact that a lot of money goes to the transportation taxman and that the freeway is a major interstate highway.

Also, The Transit Coalition was not pleased of how SANBAG handled last year's dispute with Metrolink which resulted in service cuts along the San Bernardino Line. Both parties share responsibility. Thus, I agree that SANBAG's resume on transportation matters is not perfect.

But the Agenda 21 remarks are absolutely ridiculous and the claim that HOT lanes are about forcing people from driving their cars is ideological spin. The fact that these kinds of statements get so much publicity is almost shameful and weaken the group's anti toll lane campaign credibility. By the way, Capps has also gotten herself in trouble in the past for lodging similar personal attacks.

We need fact-based solutions to maximize productivity of transportation corrridors

The fact is high occupancy vehicle lanes do carry more people in fewer vehicles per hour, and Grindal61 has a problem of removing cars from the road and wants more general purpose lane miles instead.

But the problem is without high occupancy vehicle infrastructure, regional rail services and mass transit mobility, Southern California's freeways will need many more lane miles than the two express lanes proposed each way. Unless Grindal61 can provide a means to pay for all those extra lanes, that will not even come close to happening. Also, the last transit strike in San Francisco and the New York strike last decade clearly prove that we must have multi-modal and high occupancy mass transit options. HOT lanes can provide the infrastructure for freeway-speed Rapid Express bus service to link the major hubs in our area.

The main point here is that many members of the SANBAG Board likely know that this Agenda 21 and fewer cars accusation against its HOT lane projects is nonsense. They know this group was attempting to take the controversial UN sustainable development action plan and use it against the HOT lane proposal for ideological purposes.

On the other front, transportation tax money needs to be going to the infrastructure which includes improved mass transit along high-demand corridors like the I-10 and the I-15. Whether you back toll lanes as a multi-modal solution or flat out want them stopped, we need to all work together and demand the state and federal governments to finally stop displacing or overspending our transportation-related tax money to other interests.

That's an "Agenda" we should all agree on.