“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

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Since it seems likely that the measure will go forward as is, what do you think? Surely, the argument will be, as it has in the past, that a few crumbs for transit are better than no crumbs. Should we vote yes? Or just say no?

    • Good question. First, I hope that SacTA realizes they have created a Transportation Expenditure Plan that does not reflect the desires of citizens, and will pull it now, revise it, and put up a better measure two years from now. That seems unlikely. The second chance is that one or more of the member entities (cities, county, SacRT) will realize it is a bad idea and won’t pass, and they will withdraw their support. Again, unlikely. Third is the measure will be put to the ballot, but will fail because of community opposition. Most opposition, I hope, will be because the allocation is not appropriate, but some I’m sure will be opposition to all taxes, and that is unfortunate. I think it is a toss-up what would happen in the November 2016 election. If the measure fails, it is not the end of the world, but a chance to come up with a better plan and put it before the voters. In my opinion, few crumbs are worse than no crumbs. We have accepted crumbs for so long that the powers that be think they need offer us only crumbs, and will continue to think that until we say no.

  2. All makes sense to me. I think there’s a real danger in getting to the ballot with a bad measure. If it fails, I think it’s going to be hard to tease out why people didn’t like it, and then go back to the ballot. Maybe. Anyway, really appreciate this blog and your thoughtful posts.

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About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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