SACOG Board on sales tax analysis

The SACOG Board met today, and agenda item 12 was on the SACOG Review & Analysis of Proposed Citizens’ Transportation Tax Initiative in Sacramento County. This was an information item, for discussion, not for action. This post is a brief summary of the discussion, to follow on to the earlier post on the analysis: SACOG analysis of Measure 2022. The analysis identifies 26 (or more) capacity expansion projects proposed in the measure’s Transportation Expenditure Plan, all of which would increase GHG/VMT, and most of which would also increase sprawl.

Nearly every representative of the cities and counties in Sacramento County rejected the analysis as being flawed, some even said it was unprofessional. They claimed that the analysis made so many assumptions that it could not be trusted, and that SACOG should not be in the business of producing documents like this. Despite that fact that planning for transportation and land use is specifically the purview of the MPOs, and that they instead support a measure that speculates about transportation needs for 40 years into the future. If you don’t like the message, blame the messenger.

I can’t resist pointing out that this has become a pattern for supporters of more of the same (more capacity expansion, more sprawl, more GHG/VMT):

Supporters of sprawl and the measure proponents: Show us the data!

SACOG: Here is the data.

Supporters of sprawl and the measure proponents: No, not that data. We don’t believe you.

On the other hand, every representative from the other five counties in the SACOG region expressed great concern that allowing the measure to go through would threaten their own transportation projects and funding due to the region not meeting GHG reduction goal of 19%. Don Saylor of Yolo County was the most succinct, saying that SACOG must consider the impact on the region as a whole, and that it is time to move past the limited vision of the past.

The out-of-left-field part of the discussion was that Darrell Steinberg talked about an ongoing negotiation with the measure proponents that would mitigate for the worst aspects of the measure. This apparently has been going on for six weeks, and is the reason the release of the analysis was delayed, even though it was completed a month ago.

Darrell talked about five elements of the negotiation (this is captured from his verbal report, and may not be accurate, no printed information was offered):

  • $300M in the measure for the connector would be contingent upon SACOG defining mitigation measures, and that the Capital Southeast Connector JPA accepted the mitigation.
  • SACOG would develop a scenario in the currently developing MTP/SCS that includes the connector.
  • SACOG would commit to putting the connector in the MTP if these other conditions where met.
  • An additional $300M would be provided for connector mitigation in the measure.
  • $100M will be added to the California Mobility Center, diverted from other projects.

It looks as though Steinberg is putting the onus on SACOG, not on the proponents. It is true that none of the government entities have any control over the measure, but if negotiations are going on, it should be from a position of strength, not weakness. If the City of Sacramento opposed the measure, it is very unlikely that it would pass.

The proponents intended to bully the agencies into supporting it, and to make sure that they got their message across, removed the climate protection language from the measure. They want the agencies to make their own decisions about whether and how to mitigate climate impacts, regardless of regional interests or the intent of the state legislature, or even the interests of the counties that would be impacted.

To my knowledge, no opponents of the measure, of which there are many, the majority of the transit, transportation, and environmental advocacy organizations, were asked to participate in the negotiations. Yet another example of excluding public engagement, just as the people who wrote the measure excluded public engagement.

SACOG said that the analysis would be presented to the various SACOG committees, and would come back to the board in June. It isn’t clear to me what, if anything will happen at that point. I assume the negotiations will have completed by then, successfully or unsuccessfully. It isn’t clear what kind of agreement could be reached that would actually be binding on Sacramento Transportation Authority and the other governments, since a measure, if passed and not found unconstitutional, has the force of law. Maybe there is a way.

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

SACOG analysis of Measure 2022

SACOG has released a blockbuster analysis on the effects of the proposed transportation sales tax measure that may be on the ballot in November 2022. The report is extensive, 88 pages. The SACOG Board agenda for 2022-05-19, item 12: SACOG Review & Analysis of Proposed Citizens’ Transportation Tax Initiative in Sacramento County is available here; the entire agenda packet is available on the SACOG website, but is quite large. I will be creating a number of posts on this analysis, but to start, here are two key quotes:

SACOG’s analysis of the proposed transportation tax initiative in Sacramento County projects the region would likely fall short of meeting its state-mandated 19 percent per capita greenhouse gas reduction target by nearly 2 percent. This would jeopardize the region’s ability to compete for state transportation and housing funding programs. The analysis shows that the potential impacts from this revised 2022 initiative are indeed significant enough that the region and decisionmakers should take the time to understand and weigh the potential benefits of the transportation investments against the risks of failing to meet the region’s GHG target.

SACOG Review, page 7

* The 26 known capacity expanding projects in the measure would substantially increase per capita GHG emissions, threatening the region’s ability to meet its 2035 GHG target. This conclusion results from the impact of the transportation facilities themselves, and from the impact additional transportation capacity would have on the location of new housing and employment development, substantially altering the region’s land use forecast and travel patterns and increasing per capita VMT.

* As a result, while the region’s 2020 MTP/SCS succeeded in meeting the per capita GHG emissions reduction target—19% from 2005 to 2035—the analysis shows that the initiative’s capacity projects would erode the region’s performance by nearly 2%; adding the capacity projects to the 2020 MTP/SCS would achieve an overall reduction of per capita GHG of less than 17% by the target year.

* The transit expansion projects in the initiative did not offset the impact of the initiative’s roadway capacity expanding projects enough to help the region meet its GHG emissions reduction target.

SACOG Review, page 5

For more on the measure, see Measure 2022 posts. The use of this category is not meant to confuse. A lot of people are referring to this as Measure A, but the measure letters are assigned by county elections after they have qualified, so this is in no sense Measure A at this time.

STAR opposes 2022 sales tax measure

Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR), one of the regional transit advocacy organizations, is opposed to the transportation sales tax measure being proposed for the 2022 ballot. See https://star-transit.org/2022/04/13/star-opposes-2022-sales-tax-measure/.

Measure 2022: interchanges galore!

Note: I had said I was pausing on the proposed transportation sales tax Measure 2022, but I’d forgotten to write about interchanges.

The proposed transportation sales tax measure Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan includes 31 instances of ‘interchange’. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means the intersection of freeways and expressways with other sorts of roadway, or with other freeways and expressways. Two examples, one of a freeway interchange, and one of a freeway and arterial interchange:

Hwy 50 & Business 80 & Hwy 99 interchange
Hwy 5 & Cosumnes River Blvd interchange

Interchanges are very popular in the proposal.

location#
Citrus Heights2
Elk Grove2
Folsom5
Galt1
Rancho Cordova4
City of Sacramento5
County of Sacramento2
Highway Congestion Improvements4
interchanges in the TEP

Interchanges are very expensive. Miles of sidewalk or bike lanes could be constructed for the cost of one single interchange. Or new buses or bus-only lanes, or new light rail cars, or a bike-share program. Interchanges are far more expensive than the straight sections of freeways. Interchanges take a good deal of land, removing it from productive use and leaving wastelands in between that are not accessible and not usable for anything else. Interchanges are complex for drivers, so have many far more crashes than the straight sections.

Probably most important, freeway on-ramps and off-ramps create the most hostile and dangerous points for people walking and bicycling. Though interchanges can be build with right angle turns to enter from and exit to surface streets, and can be signalized so as to allow safe passage by walkers and bicyclist, they were never built that way in the past, and are only sometimes built that way now. Instead, there are swooping on-ramps that encourage drivers to reach freeway speeds while still on the surface street and ramp, and off-ramps that encourage drivers to maintain freeway speeds coming off the ramp and continuing on the surface streets. If you don’t believe this, please watch a freeway off-ramp for a while, for example, if you live in central city Sacramento, I-5 to P Street off-ramp, or I Street to I-5 on-ramp. You will see people going 55 mph or more on the surface street, slow to decelerate and quick to accelerate. Freeway on-ramps and off-ramps kill hundreds of walkers and bicyclist a year.

Our freeway system was essentially complete years ago, with the 1972 completion of the I-80 (then I-880) northern bypass. Freeways provide quick travel from point A to point B. As earlier explained in the streets – stroads – roads post, roads that imitate railroads, for quick travel between productive places, are a good thing. The original idea of Interstate highways was, for the most part, a good idea. Of course then they were driven through the heart of cities, including Sacramento, lost most of their value as travel routes, and destroyed the value of the cities they went through.

So why, now, do we need more interchanges, more points of access to and from freeways? The answer is almost entirely greenfield development, and the promotion of car trips for commuters from those greenfield developments. Interstate 5 and Interstate 80 could easily handle all the freight and long distance travel demands with two lanes in each direction. So what are all the other lanes for? Commuters. And what are all the new interchanges for? Commuters. Note that in this use of ‘commuter’, I’m including not just home to work trips, but all the other trips that are induced by having more lanes and more interchanges. Job-related trips are now only about 20% of all trips, even before the pandemic. For the existing interchanges proposed to be improved, the reason again is primarily the induced travel through greenfield development. If there weren’t new greenfield development, there wouldn’t be increased traffic.

Each interchange reduces the safety and speed of the freeway. Each interchange encourages motor vehicle trips that would otherwise not occur, by allowing people to travel longer distances more quickly, therefore considering living and working and shopping and recreating in places they would not have otherwise considered. Of course the convenience is illusory. It makes sense right after the new lanes and interchanges are added, but the law of induced travel quickly fills those lanes and those interchanges, generating calls for more lanes and ‘improved’ interchanges. Which induces more travel, which…, well, you get the idea.

If you haven’t, please walk or bike to any of the freeway overpasses in the Sacramento region, and spend some time observing the traffic below. You will see freight traffic, trucks trying to get through the area on their way somewhere else, stuck behind commuter traffic, crawling along. You will see most vehicles carrying a single person, what are called single-occupant vehicles (SOVs), but taking up the space that could be serving multiple individuals. Though there are only a few freeways where buses also run (I-80 towards Davis and I-5 towards the airport), you will see those multi-passenger vehicles stuck in traffic with SOVs.

The second Google map above, showing the new interchange at I-5 and Cosumnes River Blvd, is instructive. Why is the interchange here? To serve the Delta Shores development, which is currently just a suburban big box store shopping area, though it was intended to and may eventually serve new housing. This area was greenfield before, agricultural farming or ranching. The purpose of the interchange is not to serve existing drivers or residents or city, but to create new drivers, new customers in this case. It is true that a portion of the cost of the interchange was paid for by the developers, but there was still a huge cost to us, the taxpayers.

If you want a lot of new and improved interchanges, which induce more motor vehicle trips, pave over greenfield areas, and create serious hazards for walkers and bicyclists, then the proposed measure may be to your liking. If not, then I hope you see it as the wrong road to travel.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Measure 2022: the path not taken

Note: I’ll pause for a bit on the Measure 2022 posts. What would you like to hear about? What are your perspectives? There will be a few posts on the transit aspects of the measure on Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR) website and cross-posted here.

The proposed transportation sales tax measure neglects or discounts a number of progressive transportation items that certainly should be in a proposal in 2022. Overall, it pays too much attention to motor vehicle travel and too little to walking, bicycling and transit. Implementation Guidelines mention a number of good ideas, but these don’t really show up in the project list.

Some of the ‘paths not taken’:

• Managed lanes on freeways. Managed lanes should be rolled, and the income dedicated to maintaining those lanes, and funding other modes. Managed lanes should be converted from general purpose lanes, not added as capacity expansion.

• A major investment in maintaining and adding sidewalks would be a far better investment in a modern transportation network than any motor vehicle project.

• Parking should be managed so as to reduce motor vehicle use and to use some of the income to fund other modes. Parking is the purview of cities and the county, but to not even mention this critical issue seems an oversight.

• Land use is not mentioned, though transportation and land use are inextricably linked. An effective transportation network cannot succeed without supportive land use, and wise land use is not possible without a supportive transportation system. Sprawling transportation encourages sprawling land use, and vice-a-versa.

• Safe Routes to School programs are not mentioned. These programs increase student safety and are an aspect of transportation demand management, but they are not mentioned or funded, though the concept is partly addressed in the ‘Road Health and Safety’ paragraph.

• Transportation is a public health issue, but health is mentioned only in passing in the ‘Road Health and Safety’ paragraph and in the context of air quality. The car dominated environment we have created with prior transportation projects is a direct and continuing threat to public health. A transportation plan should work to undo these harms, not perpetuate them.

And here are some ideas from Jeff Speck, that are of relevance to this proposal. Quoted info from Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places by Jeff Speck. If you don’t have a copy, you should!

Bike share is mentioned, but there is no acknowledgment that it can be a key factor to providing equitable transportation at lower cost.

  • “RULE 24: If your city is somewhat bikeable, introduce the most advanced bikeshare system possible, subsidized for those who need it, in conjunction with bike lane investment.”

Freeway removal, freeway lane reduction, and/or freeway capping is not mentioned.

  • “RULE 28: Replace urban highways with City-designed urban boulevards in locations where doing so will create a great increase in land value, simultaneously investing in transit along the corridor.”

Congestion pricing is not mentioned, though it is the least expensive way of increasing capacity by reducing unnecessary travel.

  • “RULE 29: If your downtown is congested, introduce a variable congestion-based toll for entry, and invest the proceeds in alternative transportation.”

Speed reduction is not mentioned. The arterial and collector streets already have posted speed limits and design speeds too high for a safe and livable place.

  • “RULE 31: Street design and design discourse should focus on reducing illegal speeding.”

Vision zero has only one mention, as a City of Sacramento project. Just as a complete streets policy is required, so should be a Vision Zero policy and implementation plan be required. So far as I know, only the City of Sacramento has this.

  • “RULE 33: Get your city to join the Vision Zero Network.”

Speed and red light running cameras, no mention at all.

  • “RULE 35: Put red-light and speed cameras wherever you can, prioritizing places where crashes have occurred. Shame state lawmakers into removing their restrictions.”

The entire plan relies on the functional classification system of freeways, arterials and collectors. This is an outmoded way of looking at transportation infrastructure.

  • “RULE 44: If possible, remove the functional classification designation from would-be walkable streets in traditional urban areas. At the least, do not allow these areas’ streets to be designed according to standards set by such a system.”

No mention of separated bikeways as best practice for arterials and collectors, or bike boulevards for parallel routes.

  • “RULE 57: Introduce regional bicycle boulevards located on calm streets that have low speed limits, no centerline, prominent markings, branded signage, and intersections designed and signed/ signalized to prioritize bikes over cars and trucks.”
  • “RULE 58: Build a network of cycle tracks, ideally by removing unnecessary driving lanes.”

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Measure 2022: fix-it-first

The proposed transportation sales tax measure includes several paragraphs on fix-it-first. The concept is that our transportation network should be maintained in a state of good repair, and that existing infrastructure should be maintained before new stuff is built. It is clear that we are not there. In fact, we can never get there. We have built more infrastructure than we can possibly maintain. There is no amount of money or taxation that can maintain what we’ve built. That is true everywhere, not just Sacramento County.

Many people were disappointed that SB 1 increase in gas tax didn’t fix very many streets. The legislation was directed mostly to state highways, and only partly to local streets and roads. Even at the state highway level, it is not enough money. At the local level, the amount of funding is a tiny fraction of what would be needed.

The proposal acknowledges the need for maintenance, beginning with the second paragraph of the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements section. The sales tax proposal is in part an attempt to overcome the local maintenance deficit with local funds.

For the first five years following implementation of this Measure (April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2028), not less than 90% of the funds identified for the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements program shall be used exclusively by all cities and the County of Sacramento for “Fix It First” road and bridge preventative maintenance and rehabilitation, including safety improvements, so as to bring these facilities throughout Sacramento County to a pavement condition index (PCI) of at least 70 at the soonest possible time, and bridges to meet acceptable state and federal standards.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

This commitment is good. Every survey has indicated that fix-it-first is the highest public priority, and this interest probably accounted for much of the yes votes for the 2016 Measure B.

At the end of the five-year period following the date of implementation of this Measure (after March 31, 2028), not less than 50% of the funds identified for the Local Street and Road Repair and Transformative System Improvements program shall be used exclusively by all cities and the County of Sacramento for “Fix It First” street, road, and bridge preventative maintenance and rehabilitation so as to continue efforts to bring these facilities throughout Sacramento County to PCI of at least 70, and bridges to meet acceptable state and federal standards.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

So, for the next 35 years of the measure, the allocation to maintenance can be much lower, or zero if PCI 70 is achieved. This seems reasonable, in the sense that if every cent were spent on maintenance, nothing new would ever be built. Of course, when it comes to motor vehicles, that would be just fine with me. But probably not with the public.

Notwithstanding these allocation restrictions, the percentage commitments to “Fix It First” maintenance and rehabilitation may be reduced, and any city and the County of Sacramento may direct a higher percentage of those funds to new transformative system improvements, provided the following conditions have been met:

The public agency manager responsible for road maintenance has certified in writing to the City Council and City Manager in a city and the Board of Supervisors and the County Chief Administrative Officer that the road facilities under their management have met or will meet within the next 12 months a 70 PCI rating.

The public agency manager responsible for road maintenance has submitted a written plan to the City Manager or County Chief Administrative Officer clearly demonstrating how the 70 PCI rating will be sustained in the future. Any diversion of the funds committed to maintenance and rehabilitation can only continue as long as ajurisdiction maintains an average PCI of 70 or above for its street and road system.In addition, local jurisdictions must maintain current levels of funding for maintenance and rehabilitation and shall not use funds from this allocation to offset existing funding planned or allocated for this purpose.

Exhibit A: Transportation Expenditure Plan

What concerns me is that there are exceptions offered. The transportation agencies have gamed the system before, building new while not maintaining existing, and in fact that is the pattern of tranportation spending ever since World War II. It seems unlikely that they will immediately change their approach to infrastructure maintenance. What if it becomes obvious that our roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure are continuing to deteriorate? Will the engineers and planners and politicians be willing to forgo the big new projects and ribbon cuttings?

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.