March 9, 2016
Highway repair work causes drivers entering Sacramento on Highway 50 to
come to a near stand still. The future problem will be funding such
California transportation authorities have been warning for years
about problems in our state’s gasoline tax-based structure of paying for
highways and their repair.
That’s because the good news on so
many fronts associated with higher-mileage and hybrid and electric
vehicles — American energy independence, attacking global warming — also
is the bad news when it comes to fuel-tax revenues coming into
Sacramento’s coffers. California has a large backlog of roadway and
transit-infrastructure repair, and that is why we have supported experiments
looking at the best way to change the ways motorists pay for our
highways, including moving toward a tax based on miles traveled, not
just fuel purchased.
Until recently, the problem had seemed a looming one, but not a cause for institutional alarm.
That’s all changed. In a letter dated Jan. 27
sent to all members of the California Legislature, the California
Transportation Commission called the funding situation a “crisis” that
“continues to worsen.”
And the commission is using more than
strong words. Charged with overseeing spending not only on roads but on
state-funded rapid transit such as urban rail systems, its members
announced a cutback of $754 million in available funding for projects
that have already been approved over the next five years. Not only that —
there will be “no new projects” funded, since no new money is
“There will be a significant delay (in funding) for the projects
that remain ... almost all are at risk of delay,” commission Executive
Director Will Kempton told the editorial board this week.
For California motorists, for users of rapid transit, for long-haul truckers, this is very bad news indeed.
letter to legislators includes a list by county and legislative
district of projects that may be delayed or terminated because of the
funding crisis. For various bureaucratic and political reasons, the hits
to road repairs come harder to tiny counties such as Lassen and Lake
than they do to Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. There are only
four at risk for “deletion and delay” in L.A. County, for instance,
whereas Mendocino has 10. We may be OK without a couple of small
boulevard-widening schemes. But then check out this line item: “Light
Rail Vehicles. $102,400,000.” The CTC is warning, right as Southern
California is on the verge of major new rail connections, that we may be
short a few cars.
In San Bernardino County, the biggest of five projects at risk
for cutback or elimination is the Kramer Junction four-lane expressway,
with $155,095,000 potentially on the chopping block, along with projects
to improve the 215 and 210 freeways. In Ventura County, planned HOV
lanes on the 101 are threatened.
The problem of saving what the
CTC calls California’s “crumbling transportation infrastructure” isn’t
off in the future — it’s today. Last year the Legislature took up but
failed to come to agreement on any bills that would address that
problem. Senators and Assembly members, we realize you believe your
constituents don’t want to hear about new taxes. But unless we change
the way we fund both roadways and rapid transit, we fall into a pothole
from which there is no escape. Do the brave thing and quickly adopt
comprehensive improvements to the fuel tax to keep California on the