Editorial by Noel Braymer
Transportation remains a major issue in the whole country with 70% of transportation measures winning nationwide this November 7th. This is according to the Center for Transportation Excellence in Washington. In California 10 counties were voting to enact or renew local sales taxes that would go for transportation. Tulare County passed a new sales tax. Fresno, Orange and San Joaquin Counties voted to extend existing sales taxes. Sale tax measures for transportation in Kern, Merced, Santa Barbara, and Stanislaus Counties all received majority approval, but failed to win a two/thirds vote required for passage. Marin and Sonoma Counties had a joint sales tax measure. The measure won two/thirds in Sonoma but not in Marin County. The result was the measure failed.
Californians approved over 30 billion dollars in bonds and sale tax revenues that can go towards transportation. To apply for state bond money counties will need matching funds. Many of these projects will also be eligible for Federal funding. But still only if the communities have a local match. When the reality of this hits the counties that don’t have a transportation sale tax, we should see more measures pass with the next election.
Measure 1A was not a bond issue, but makes it harder to tap gasoline tax money for transportation into the general fund. When this happens it disrupts planning for projects that get their funding cut because of “budget emergencies”. This happened for two years in a row just recently. Measure 1B will raise almost 20 billion in bond money for transportation with a share going towards rail and transit. Caltrans Rail Division is budgeted to get $400 million for Amtrak California. Of this, $125 million will go for new cars and locomotives. Los Angeles County is eligible for up to 1 billion in 1B money for transit. There is another 2 billion, part of which can be used for grade separations. The final decisions on spending are yet to be made by the California Transportation Commission (CTC). Measure 1C is money for housing. But this is a bonus for rail service because much of the money is to be spent for housing construction near train and transit stations. There is Measure 1E which is money for flood control. This will protect railroads in areas prone to flooding such as the Sacramento River Delta area.
As great as this new money is, it is not enough to build everything. Transportation projects that agencies have been waiting years for funding will quickly use up these new funds. A good example of this is the COAST DAYLIGHT. This project is no overnight success: it has been in the works for over 10 years. But it could now be running in two years if some track work and additional equipment can be bought. Now there is money for projects like the COAST DAYLIGHT, run-through tracks at LAUS, and reopening the Dumbarton Bridge.
Los Angeles County has the biggest dreams for this bond money. The Mayor of Los Angeles is proposing extending the subway under Wilshire Blvd. “to the sea.” This means to Santa Monica which would require over 10 miles of new subway. That would be about a 5 billion dollar project. There is already the Expo Light Rail Line under construction from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. In far less time and money it can be extended to Santa Monica. Also fighting for funding are groups in the San Gabriel Valley who want the Gold Line extended east of Pasadena to the edge of western San Bernardino County. There is growing desire for rail service to LAX. There is renewed interest to extend the Green Line the 2 miles into the LAX area. A County Board of Supervisors Member who’s District includes the Crenshaw District wants a light rail line from the EXPO Line to LAX on Crenshaw Blvd. These projects won’t connect LAX to Los Angeles Union Station. There is a need for direct Metrolink service to LAX which would be a low cost project that would serve the entire Southern California region. In addition there is a need to connect the Blue and EXPO Lines at 7th and Flower in downtown Los Angeles with the Gold Line extension one mile away at 1st and Alameda. Also there is now interest in Los Angeles to create a system of Street Car lines as a circulator in downtown Los Angeles.
The reality is even with this new money, spending will have to be based on priority. Those projects with the greatest benefit for the lowest cost should get the highest priority. Not everything is going to be built at the same time. Projects will have to wait, maybe a long time before being funded. Some projects may have to be changed to be more economical. No matter what happens, not everyone will be happy.
(SEE spending plans for the Capitol Corridor in the CCJPA Meeting Report above. -Ed.)