Measure A fix-it-first for only five years

From the Measure A 2022 transportation sales tax measure, Implementation Guidelines, paragraph F: ““Fix It First” Investment Priority for Years 1-5. With the exception of Caltrans and the Capital Southeast Connector Joint Powers Authority, Authority allocations for the first five years following implementation of this Measure shall prioritize “Fix It First” road, transit, safety, bicycle, and pedestrian investments.”

For the first five years of the measure, if it passes, the county and cities will be obligated to prioritize (that word is not defined) fix-it-first, which most people think of as fix-my-potholed street. What about the other 35 years of the measure? The agencies can then go back to what they have been doing all along, which is de-prioritizing maintenance in favor of building new stuff. Potholes in your street? Broken sidewalks? Sorry, we are going to spend the bulk of your tax dollars on building new stuff.

A measure that really cared about the quality of our transportation network would prioritize a state of good repair, not just for five years, but always. Of course traffic engineers know that is not possible. We have already built more than we can possibly maintain. But rather than being honest about that, the county and cities have adopted a policy of full-speed-ahead with new stuff – more freeways, more interchanges, more pavement.

Note also that Caltrans projects and the Capital Southeast Connector are exempted from even that meek requirement.

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?

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