No one likes paying taxes. And yet, the right ones are essential to a quality of life we’ve come to expect. Taxes pay for national defense, public education, police and fire protection, and the highways, roads, bridges and rail lines that form the foundation of our transportation infrastructure.
Which brings us to Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the California Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 – a critical funding measure that has been under attack ever since its approval by the Legislature a year ago April.
This November, voters are being asked to repeal SB1 and deny the state $5 billion a year to restore our highway and local road systems after decades of deferred maintenance. That’s real money and it’s badly needed.
Here and across the state, approval of Proposition 6 would exacerbate a funding shortfall that compounds every year and has severely compromised the safety and efficiency of our roads and highways. According to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Orange County alone is projected to receive nearly $117 million during the current fiscal year as a result of the increase in state fuel taxes and other fees that are part of SB1. Of that, more than $92 million would fund improvements to local streets and roads, with the balance going to transit projects.
Already, necessary projects such as improvements to the Highway 57/Lambert Road interchange, the synchronization of traffic signals and the expansion of transit service in the county are reliant on SB1 funds in order to move forward.
SB1 also funds critical active transportation projects – to the tune of $100 million per year across the state. As a leader in promoting safe, efficient bicycling and pedestrian travel, Orange County would be a prime candidate for some of this funding. More broadly, SB1 would help California meet its goals of doubling walking and triple bicycling trips by 2020, and reducing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities by 10 percent each year.
Critics will say there has to be another way. The reality is that we long ago exhausted the traditional methods for funding our transportation system, which is why California now faces a shortfall of $59 billion for state highway improvements and $78 billion to get our local roads up to speed.
And while an increase in the state gas tax might seem a bitter pill, keep in mind that the federal gas tax hasn’t increased since the first full year of the Clinton administration. That, along with inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiency, further limits the amount of dollars available for transportation projects.
Complicating matters even more in California are burdensome environmental requirements that add years to amount of time needed to even begin a major capital project.
We don’t have years to waste. And we certainly don’t have the billions of additional dollars those project delays end up costing.
As it is, Orange County will need $4.5 billion over the next decade to meet its growing street maintenance needs, according to the California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment. For the SCAG region as a whole, that number climbs to $36.5 billion.
If allowed to remain intact, SB1 wouldn’t eliminate that financial burden, but certainly would take a sizable bite out of it. In addition to funding street and road improvements at the local level, SB1 helps address state highway system needs, regional transit opportunities and ways to better our goods movement network. It also creates a Local Partnership Program, which rewards local jurisdictions that have passed their own transportation funding measures.
Proposition 6 seeks to eliminate all of that.
Orange County deserves a safe and efficient transportation network. The funding provided under SB1 helps ensure that.
Michele Martinez is Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Santa Ana and Immediate Past President of the Southern California Association of Governments.
Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.
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