Transportation Momentum Grows, but Challenges Remain

By Loren Faulkner | September 28, 2010

Transportation California ( has once again presented an excellent summary of how the recent election will impact transportation issues in California. The following release was sent out a couple of days after the election:

Transportation Momentum Grows, but Challenges Remain

This has been an eventful week for transportation in California with voters approving High Speed Rail (Proposition 1A) and local voters continuing to show strong support for local sales tax measures. The Governor has now announced a Budget and stimulus package that includes accelerated Proposition 1B work and the continuation ofProposition 42 funding. There have also been setbacks with some counties failing to reach the two-thirds threshold for local sales tax measures and additional tapping of public transit funds in the Governor's Budget balancing proposal.

"The good news is that the public and our elected leaders get it — we must invest in transportation or there is no hope for our economy," summed up Transportation California Executive Director Mark Watts. "The bad new is that California is in a tremendous hole when it comes to meeting our transportation needs and the current economic crisis makes the situation that much worse."

First, on the positive side:

  • Proposition 1A will provide $9 billion to jump start the long anticipated High Speed Rail project, which will also require federal and private funding. The campaign was chaired by Jim Earp of the Alliance for Jobs and funding came primarily from the construction community.
  • With a 67% vote, Los Angeles County voters barely reached the two-thirds threshold, but did approve a new half-cent sales tax increase for transportation. This will generate $30–40 billion over the next thirty years.By an almost four to one margin, Santa Barbara and Imperial Counties OKed half-cent sales tax extensions.
  • The Governor is proposing to accelerate $700 million in Proposition 1B local streets and roads to get projects locked in by the end of 2009 and an additional $800 million for transit capital projects. He is also proposing to provide CEQA waivers to allow $833 million in Proposition 1B projects to move forward without delay. The governor has also proposed additional authority for Public-Private Partnerships and Design Build.
  • Approval of the Governor's temporary sales tax proposal could generate as much as $1 billion for transportation over the next few years under the provisions of Proposition 42
  • There may also be good news from Washington. Transportation infrastructure is very much part of the discussion for a post-election stimulus package this year and President-Elect Obama repeatedly called for more than $50 billion in new investment to create 2,000,000 jobs fixing "our crumbling roads and schools".

That said, there are hurdles and concerns:

  • The Governor's new proposal again calls for more diversion of public transit money through the elimination state grants to local transit from the Public Transit Account. This amounts to more than $500 million over the nexttwo years.
  • While county transportation sales tax measures up and down the state received broad voter support, propositions in Kern, Monterey and Yolo fell short of the needed two-thirds majority. In Santa Clara and Stanislaus, sales tax measures are hanging a shade below two-thirds with some hope that the final count will put them over the top.
  • A hearing held last week by Assembly Transportation Chair Mark DeSaulnier pointed up the failure of the current gas tax to keep up with highway maintenance and repair needs. CalTrans now has an annual backlog of more than $3.5 billion annually for pavement and highway rehabilitation projects. It would require a 24 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax to wipe out that backlog. Transportation California Executive Director Mark Watts, testifying on behalf of transportation stakeholders, emphasized the imperative of addressing critical revenue shortfalls to allow California to move forward after the infusion from Proposition 1B bonds runs its course.