News summary 2016-05-01

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Measure B moves forward

As was no surprise, the board of the Sacramento Transportation Authority passed the Transportation Expenditure Plan and related language yesterday afternoon. All of the public speakers were in favor of less for road expansion and more for transit, walking, and bicycling. The board seems to feel that gaining the votes of the suburbs is important to passing the ballot measure, but other than Steve Hansen, seemed to forget that without the votes of the urban core which favors multi-modal transportation, the measure also won’t pass. Nevertheless, the vote was not a surprise.

What was a complete surprise was the opposition of two organizations, Region Business, a front group for greenfield developers, represented by Robert Abelon, and California Alliance of Jobs, a promoter of highways, represented by Michael Quigley. They wanted removal of paragraph H from the implementation guidelines section of the measure. Paragraph H said:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure _ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase that must be included in a federally approved air quality conformity determination to either the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) shall have consistent project descriptions to the listing in the MTP & MTIP before the Authority allocates construction funding for the project phase.

Both lobbyists threatened to derail the measure if they didn’t get their way. Apparently they and their supporters had sent threatening emails to board members in the last hours before the meeting. Why are they opposed to paragraph H? They are strong defenders of the Capital Southeast Connector, and strong opponents of everything that SACOG does. SACOG is responsible for the MTP and MTIP, though it is composed of requests from the counties and cities which are seldom really questioned. Their strong opposition to paragraph H is an admission on their part that the connector, at least in its full buildout, could never meet air quality requirements, and so they want to eliminate any mention of air quality, the MTP, and the MTIP from the measure. Tom Zlotkowski, the Executive Director of the Capital Southeast Connector JPA (Joint Powers Authority), also objected, again, with the clear implication that the project could not go forward if air quality requirements were met.

The board, after well over an hour of discussion, and a long break to negotiate and regroup, decided with go with compromise language provided by SACOG counsel, Kirk Trost, and SACOG Director of Transportation Services, Matt Carpenter.

The substitute language is, in my opinion, significantly weaker and also vaguer. Not a good sign. Steve Hansen had earlier said that the existing paragraph H was part of the guarantee of accountability the authority was making with the public, and that not having a high level of accountability would result in a lower level of support at the ballot box. Yet, in the end, all board members except Roberta MacGlashan voted in favor of the TEP and language with the “compromise” change.

The new paragraph H says:

Federal Air Quality Requirements. Measure _ Expenditure Plan funds programmed for a project construction phase shall not impair the ability of the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP) to meet federal air quality conformity, as determined by the Sacramento Transportation Authority Governing Board.

For all of you who may question or be opposed to the Capital Southeast Connector, I urge you to get in touch with your representatives to ask why a very narrow interest group was allowed to significantly weaken the measure by making threats.

An earlier post of mine: No to the Capital Southeast Connector

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Measure B projects

So, where would the money from Measure B go? It is impossible to really say, as the current option Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) focuses more on government entities than types of projects. But here is a summary, with the TEP (SacTA_2016-04-28_agenda-item6-TEP) also available:

  • Citrus Heights: $117M, mostly fix-it-first and complete streets projects, mostly good
  • Elk Grove: $235M, fix-it-first, new and widened road, new interchange, mostly bad
  • Folsom: $115M, fix-it-first, two new interchanges, road widening, mostly bad
  • Galt: $36M, fix-it-first, new interchange, mostly bad
  • Isleton: $2M, fix-it-first, great
  • Rancho Cordova: $110M, fix-it-first, interchange, several widening, mostly bad
  • City of Sacramento: $683, fix-it-first, American River bridge, OK
  • County of Sacramento: $901M, fix-it-first, one interchange, several complete streets but many road capacity expansions, mostly bad
  • Capital City Freeway: $200M, all bad
  • Capital Southeast Connector: $125M, all bad
  • SacRT replacement and operations: $393M, mostly fix-it-first with low floor modern light rail cars, all good
  • SacRT new light rail: $180M, mixed bag, but issue not addressed is which routes should be extended and how far on what priority
  • SacRT Gold Line express: $20M, good
  • SacRT Blue Line to Elk Grove and SMART: $126, mostly good, but same issue as above with priorities
  • Paratransit: $126M, good, though needs to emphasize transport to transit rather than point to point

Notice that most of the items say fix-it-first as the first line item, however, there is language in the ballot measure that would allow all agencies to squirm out of that requirement if they so chose.

So, to reiterate and summarize these recent posts, I am not against a sales tax for transportation, but I am against the way funds have been allocated in the TEP, and the length of the tax measure. I probably will not have time for any more posts between now and the Thursday meeting of SacTA.

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transportation funding “balance”

“We’re doing what we think is best … so we can actually get this done,” [Sacramento Transportation Authority Board Chair Kerri] Howell said. “If we don’t get it passed, no one gets anything.”

The Sacramento Transportation Authority (SacTA, as I call it, rather than STA, to distinguish it from the State Transportation Agency, or CalSTA) is claiming that their proposed Transportation Expenditure Plan (TEP) is balanced, and that it reflects the desire of the citizens as expressed through the survey that they conducted.

The proposal might be considered balanced if it were the only source of transportation funding, but it is not. There is funding from the federal government, the state, and the existing Sacramento County sales tax, Measure A. Most of this funding goes to building new roads and expanding existing roads. As examples, the recent major widening of Interstate 80, the “Across the Top” project, that added significant capacity to the freeway, and several new interchanges in the region have been added or are under construction. The I-80 project serves commuters from Roseville to downtown. It does nothing for freight traffic, for air quality, or for a multi-modal system. The interchanges serve new greenfield developments, not existing residential and commercial areas. Any tax measure that funds new roads cannot be called balanced, because it does not bring an overall balance. We still have a cars-first transportation network, and a cars-first funding mechanism. The only answer to this is #NoNewRoads.

The survey that SacTA performed showed that people overwhelmingly support fixing roads, which is called fix-it-first. I support that. Deteriorated roads serve no one. However, too often transportation agencies use fix-it-first as a cover for widened roads. The assumption is that if a road is too narrow, and/or is congested, then it needs to be “fixed” to be wider. An example is the Hazel Ave widening going on right now. More lanes, more traffic, more air pollution, less livability. While on one hand agencies are building “complete streets” with sidewalks and bike lanes, with the other hand they are increasing capacity for motor vehicles. Having a sidewalk and bike lane does not change a roadway from a cars-first, high speed, unfriendly status to a multi-modal, serves all users part of the transportation network.

What the survey did not do is ask questions such as “Given that almost all of your tax money is already going to new construction and widening roads, do you want us to spend new tax money on the same thing?” The answer from most people would have been no. Or, “Given that we have in the past neglected to maintain roads, do you want us to continue to build new roads that we don’t have the funds to maintain. (We’ll ask you for that money later)?” The answer would have been no. The survey did not ask “Given that the level of funding for transit is Sacramento is the lowest of any major county in California, do you wish us to continue to give transit less than it needs?” The answer would have been no.

The idea that if we don’t do this tax measure then we have nothing is pernicious. We have existing funding sources, and though those sources are declining somewhat and don’t meet the needs for maintenance, we do have the ability to operate our transportation system on them, if need be. This is the same story that we have been hearing for at least 20 years, and probably back to post World War II. That story is, if you give us free rein to spend most of the money on cars, we will give you some bread crumbs to keep you happy. Some transit. A tiny bit for walking and bicycling. In my opinion, it is time to just say no. This allocation has not only been unfair to transit users, walkers and bicyclists, it has been used to create transportation system that is actively hostile to those uses. Just say no. #NoNewRoads

Please understand that I am not against increased taxes for transportation. What I am for, strongly for, is a transportation system that servers all users in an equitable manner. We don’t have that today, and we can only reach that if we spend our tax funds on undoing the damage of the past, and making sure we do no damage in the future. #NoNewRoads

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transportation funding sources and uses

Transportation in Sacramento County comes from a number of sources: federal, state, regional and local. The federal government is the big player in our national and regional transportation system, but has little role in local streets and roads. The state has a large role in national and regional transportation, partly with it own money and partly as a conduit for federal money. The regional Metropolitan Planning Agency, Sacramento Area Council of Governments in our case, does not contribute any funds, but does have a say in how a portion of the federal and state funds are allocated. Sacramento County has a role in the transportation system at all levels, national, regional, and local, and contributes through the Measure A sales tax. Some cities within the county contribute to projects, and much of what little maintenance is done is funding by the cities.

Some readers are saying whoa! There is a lot more detail to the story than this. Yes, there is. What I am doing at the moment is painting with a broad brush for common citizens who might have input on the proposed Measure B sales tax for transportation.

So, where does it go?

  • Federal funds reserve 10% for transit, and almost all the rest goes to highway construction projects. Though the federal government has said it wants to see a more multi-modal transportation system, they are giving money to the states with almost no strings attached and the states are spending it on highway construction. A recent effort to hold states more accountable is toothless.
  • State funds from Proposition 1B and other sources go to construction, transit, a little maintenance, and tiny amounts to the Active Transportation Program. 75% of the money is passed through to the MPOs and regional transportation agencies, but in such a way that most of the decisions are at the regional level are for the same, mostly construction and some other. Again, the state has said it wants to see a more multi-modal system, but funding decisions still strongly favor highways.
  • Regional funds are allocated largely based on requests from the counties and cities for projects, and most of the projects requested are highway construction and arterial expansion. Again, the MPOs have said they want a more multi-modal system, but the funds continue to go largely to cars.
  • County funds are primarily from the transportation sales tax Measure A. Most of these funds were allocated to new construction, with 1/3 for transit and almost none to maintenance and walking and bicycling. The nature of the sales tax measure, approved in 1988 and updated in 2004, is a 30-year term and a list of projects that can only be significantly changed by a new ballot measure.

Here are some links on transportation funding in California:

  • Transportation Funding, Institute for Local Government, undated but may be somewhat out of date
  • Transportation Funding in California, Caltrans, 2014
  • If you search for “transportation funding California” you will find a lot more information. Please realize that some of these web sites and documents are from road building industry groups, so put just as skeptical an eye on those as you do my posts!
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transportation sales tax decision tomorrow

A critical decision on whether to place a new sales tax measure for transportation on the November ballot will be made tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, by the Sacramento Transportation Authority. I ask that you attend and let the SacTA know what you think, and why. The meeting starts at 2:30PM in the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chambers at 700 H Street in Sacramento. The agenda and agenda packet are available at: http://www.sacta.org/c_calendar.html.

I’ve written in the past about transportation funding, and will provide you some more background information between now and tomorrow that may help you form a position on Measure B, but for right now, let me summarize what I see as the negatives.

  1. The 30-year measure is far too long. To say the we know today what the county will need in 30 years is simple hubris. Just today a different vision for the streetcar was released than one year ago. How can we know 30 years from now what we will need? Yet the Transportation Expenditure Plan associated with the ballot measure would lock in projects for 30 years.
  2. There is a claim that this measure is balanced, because it includes some projects for all the entities in the county, and provides some for fix-it-first, transit capital and operations, and walking and bicycling via complete streets projects. What is not mentioned by the measure supporters is that the majority of other transportation funding goes to building new roads, not to these things, so our funding pattern is already severely out of balance. Our taxes and fees have long gone to building new roads, and almost none to creating a transportation system that works for all. If this were the sole funding for transportation, the mix might make some sense, but given the overall funding picture, this measure would just continue the imbalance.
  3. The measure devotes significant funds to two new road projects, the Capital Southeast Connector and widening of the Capital City Freeway, as well as a number of smaller but expensive freeway interchanges. All of these have unacceptable impacts on greenhouse gas reduction because they will in fact increase vehicle miles driven (VMT) rather than reducing it. It is called induced demand, and it is a well known effect.
  4. Our roadways are in such horrible condition because transportation planners and engineers, and the politicians that support them, have continued to devote our transportation funds to building new roads rather than keeping the ones we have in repair. It is time now to spend every tax dollar that we spend on roads on fixing what we have, and not building yet more than we will fail to maintain.

More to come!

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News summary 2016-04-24

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