Time for California to take the road less traveled?

Like the roads and bridges we drive on, our state’s transportation financing policy is in a state of collapse.
In Washington, D.C., legislators went down to the wire to temporarily rescue the Highway Trust Fund, the primary source for financing this country’s highway and mass transit improvements. The rescue is only a stop-gap measure; the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money again by next June.  The Highway Trust Fund supports fifty percent of California’s Highway Capital Program. 

If that weren’t bad enough, in California we face our own funding issues. The successful $20 billion Prop 1B bond program that financed many projects over the last few years has ended and Caltrans has projected a $290 billion shortfall through 2020 for the maintenance and expansion of the state’s roads and highways. Future state and federal revenue for transportation improvements is expected to drop by 40%, compared to the levels of the last five years.
So, here’s the dilemma:  in order to grow our economy in a sustainable way, we need good roads and highways – to carry goods and our growing population.  Roads need constant maintenance and, as our population grows, more cars use those roads, traffic patterns change and require new road solutions.   How do we pay for them?
 “Build California Better,“ a white paper just released by ACEC California, addresses this issue and looks at alternative paths California may take to keep our roads and highways in the condition needed to support further economic growth.
Key to the issue is understanding the state gas tax, which was conceived to help finance road maintenance and improvements.  Gas tax revenue however, hasn’t kept pace with inflation and is actually on the decline as more Californians drive vehicles with greater fuel efficiency or, increasingly, no dependence on gas at all: in 2010 there were just two models of electric car on the market, today there are more than 20.
So, an increase in the gas tax – viewed as political suicide by many – isn’t even a long term guarantee that the state will take in more revenue.  As more Californians adopt hybrid or electric technology, fewer will purchase gas. 

It’s time for some ‘outside-the-box’ thinking on this issue.  The purpose of “Build California Better” is to promote that kind of thinking, enhance discussion and, hopefully, encourage our state’s politicians and visionaries to deliver a long term, sustainable funding plan for our transportation infrastructure.  

One thought on “Time for California to take the road less traveled?

  1. As a start, reforms are needed to:

    Eliminate duplicative processes and speed up government approvals.

    Utlize new technologies for better speed and service.

    Develop partnerships with the private sector to inject private-sector money into new capital projects that will improve commutes, increase the flow of goods and services and strengthen a vital part of our infrastructure.

    But a stable and adequate funding source is needed as well. Three solutions worth considering are:

    1. A transportation user fee that would be added to the vehicle license fee. This could provide at least $3 billion a year.

    2. Redirecting truck weight fees back to transportation instead of backfilling the state budget. This could raise $1-2 billion a year.

    3. This deals with pending regulations to reduce greenhouse gases and will eventually add 20 to 30 cents per gallon onto the price of gasoline that needs to be legislative redirected back to transportation.

    None of these ideas are easy but if we all work together is is possible.

    Longer-term, we need to explore other options, including allowing voters to approve sales tax increases to pay for transportation improvement with a 55-percent majority instead of the two-thirds vote required currently and instituting Caltrans reforms to ensure that we get the biggest bang for our transportation investments.


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