Modesty, thy name is Bus Rapid Transit.
And that's why BRT, as it's called, figures to be far more important to Fresno's future than HSR – high-speed rail.
The Fresno City Council on Thursday voted to spend $1.1 million to hire a company called Parsons Brinkerhoff to begin designing the city's proposed Bus Rapid Transit system.
We've written about BRT before. To start off, it'll be a Fresno Area Express route shaped like an "L". It'll go from River Park in the north, down Blackstone to downtown, then east on Kings Canyon to Clovis Avenue.
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What was so interesting about last Thursday's council meeting was the brief video that Ken Hamm, head of FAX, played for everyone.
Now, keep in mind the role videos play in public-policy debates on complex infrastructure projects. Thanks to high-tech wizards, advocates of big-ticket projects can conjure up amazing images of what the public will get for their millions (or billions ... or trillions) of dollars.
High-speed rail supporters are masters of this tool. I've seen a high-speed rail video that made the future look like heaven on earth.
Bullet trains full of smiling, polite, well-dressed passengers traveled through the world's breadbasket at 220 mph, coming to a safe and pleasant stop at a beautiful station in sparkling, bustling downtown Fresno.
A bit of execution and a hundred billion dollars or more should make it all a reality.
Hamm's video on Bus Rapid Transit, on the other hand, didn't promise the world. It showed how customers will buy their BRT tickets from machines at bus stops. BRT buses' doorways will be flush with bus station platforms, making it easier and faster for customers in wheelchairs to get on and off the bus. About 20% of the L-shaped route will have "bus only" lanes, and BRT buses at some intersections will get a brief head start on the rest of the traffic.
All in all, customers on this express line could see a 25% to 30% time reduction, according to the pitch.
Bus Rapid Transit won't be cheap. Hamm estimates the first route including buses will cost $48 million. Eighty percent is supposed to come from the federal government, and the city hopes to get all or most of the 20% match from the state. Those are big question marks in these tough fiscal times.
Funding for future routes, such as along Shaw Avenue, also is up in the air.
Hamm also emphasized Thursday that the $1.1 million going to Parsons Brinkerhoff comes from federal and state monies already set aside for Fresno.
Garbage costs pile up
The Fresno City Council voted 7-0 last week to increase the city's payments to the Orange Avenue Disposal Co.'s transfer station on Cedar Avenue.
The company is owned by the Caglia family, one of Fresno's best-known and most civic-minded families. The Caglias also own the Cedar Avenue Recycling and Transfer Station.
About seven years ago, City Hall and the Caglias entered into a deal. The city's garbage trucks would haul their loads to the Caglias' transfer station. The Caglias would then haul the trash to the county landfill.
The deal was expected to save City Hall a lot of money in overtime for drivers and wear and tear on city garbage trucks. And, according to city officials, the deal saved at least $1 million a year.
But officials said the Caglias are losing too much on the deal. There are many reasons for this, most involving the recession.
The Caglias said they need help. City officials said they deserve help. The council agreed.
So the Caglias will get help, at an estimated additional cost to the city of nearly $1.2 million a year.
What interested me is where this money will come from. It won't be from a rate increase. It'll come from a reserve fund at the city's Public Utilities Department.
Several critics at Thursday's council meeting said the money is a bailout. I asked Council President Lee Brand after the meeting why his Better Business Act, Taxpayer Protection Act and Reserve Management Act didn't apply here.
These acts deal with how City Hall should scrutinize and handle subsidy requests, the addition of new city debts and the management of city reserves.
Brand said none of the three acts apply to the Orange Avenue Disposal Company situation.