I’m crossing my fingers that by the time you read this, the proposition repealing California’s gas tax and vehicle fees (SB 1), which was overwhelmingly passed by the California legislature last year, will have failed. Proposition 6, as it is known, repeals more than $5 billion of dedicated funding for transportation projects across the state, annually, and stops funding for 6,500 transportation improvement projects currently underway. This includes 453 improvement projects for public transportation operations and services; 337 projects relieving traffic congestion; 554 repairs or replacement of bridges and overpasses; and more than 3,700 projects fixing potholes and repaving crumbling roads, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
What makes this even worse is the fact that the proposition was only put on the ballot to lure conservative voters to the polls to hopefully shore up support for Republican candidates in this contentious mid-term election. “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the party’s candidate for California governor, John Cox, helped put the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot in hopes it would help GOP candidates by creating a surge of conservative voters,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Speaking of potholes...
When I was growing up, it seemed like our street was never in disrepair. I remember whenever it was repaved how all the neighborhood kids would break out their skates and bikes to try out the super-smooth asphalt. Now when I drive around my neighborhood, I try to dodge the uneven bumps where potholes and cracks have been filled in over and over again. Nearly 90% of California’s counties have roads that are in “poor” or “at-risk” condition, according to the ASCE. And, more than 1,600 bridges and overpasses are structurally deficient and unsafe. While it may sound great to pay less for gas, there won’t be any point if you don’t have any safe roads or bridges to drive on.
Eliminating service, delaying projects
Prior to SB 1 approval in 2017, Southern California-based Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) projected a $20 million funding shortfall because of lower bus ridership and weaker growth in sales tax revenues. But, thanks to SB 1 transit funding, estimated to be about $19 million, the agency was able to offset the shortfall and prevent bus service reductions.
“If Prop. 6 were to pass, we would likely have to reduce bus service by about 11 percent,” says OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnick. “We are currently looking at ways to do this that would have the least impact on riders. This potentially includes eliminating bus routes with low productivity and reducing frequency on some routes.”
Additionally, a repeal of SB 1 would leave a funding gap and could cause delays for some existing capital project schedules. In all, Orange County is set to receive more than $420 million, which includes the money for transit as well as capital project funding, which includes the money for transit as well as capital project funding. One concern is that a loss of SB 1 funding could adversely affect the stabilization of California’s State Transportation Improvement Program, Zlotnick explains, which might mean delays in funding for capital projects.
If Prop. 6 wins on Nov. 6, public transit agencies across the state will be faced with similiarly difficult scenarios. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
Janna Starcic is the executive editor of METRO Magazine.