The November presidential election was among the most divisive and competitive that I can recall. Until the final bell, George Bush and John Kerry pounded each other like a couple of dazed prize fighters. It was great theater. Did the American people choose the right man? Only time will tell.
In the backdrop of this high drama was a series of smaller battles waged in the name of public transportation. Transit initiatives were tested by voters across the country. The results were heartening.
According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, more than 20 transit ballot measures worth an estimated $40 billion were successfully backed by voters on Nov. 2.
This is great news for our industry. It sends a clear message to the lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Americans are willing to invest in public transportation and are committed to reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality and ensuring that mobility concerns are addressed from a regional perspective.
Let's keep up the pressure
With the reauthorization of TEA 21 still in the works, we need to continue to press the politicians in Washington, D.C., to approve a funding level that will match the widespread enthusiasm for public transportation that was evident on Election Day.
This is not the time to relax. Congress needs to be constantly reminded of the effectiveness of investment in public transportation. Not only does it help to do all the things I mentioned earlier, this investment also creates jobs.
Although the state of the economy didn't seem to be the key factor in the outcome of the presidential election, we all know how quickly things can change. Another terrorist strike on U.S. soil, for example, could put us on our heels again. Drawing attention to the economic benefits of federal transit investment is a worthy endeavor.
Some of the high-profile measures that were approved by voters on Nov. 2 include a half-cent sales tax extension in the Phoenix area that will help fund a $16 billion plan to build a light rail line and improve bus service, among other things.
In Denver, voters gave the green light to the $4.7 billion FasTracks transit expansion plan that will involve the construction of a light rail or commuter rail line from central Denver to several outlying suburbs.
In the San Francisco bay area, voters approved a $980 million bond issue to pay for earthquake safety modifications to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. It was approved by a 70-30 margin. Two years ago, the same measure lost by 2.2 percentage points.
In Austin, Texas, a $100 million commuter rail starter line was approved by 63% of voters, an impressive margin. The proposal calls for diesel-powered trains to operate along existing railroad track already owned by Capital Metro.
A few tough defeats
While these measures provide us with strong optimism about transit development, not all initiatives were embraced. In Vancouver, Wash., voters defeated a measure that would have doubled a 0.3% transit sales tax and staved off deep cuts in the local bus system. In Santa Cruz County, Calif., voters decisively defeated a half-cent sales tax designed to raise $530 million for transportation projects.
You're not going to win every fight, as Kerry discovered. But the record number of approvals of transit initiatives bodes well for the near future. Let's keep lobbying for continued investment. We all know that's in the best interest of our industry and this country.