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Sacramento Puts Road, Transit Improvements in Upcoming Measure

August 11, 2016

Sacramento Transit Plan

Amid growing frustration with traffic and poor road conditions in Sacramento, a region with over 1,420,000 residents, voters will consider a transportation measure on their November ballots.  The Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA) has crafted what is now being called the Road Maintenance and Traffic Relief Act, or Measure B.  It is backed up by a 30-year half-cent sales tax increase that would raise $3.6 billion to implement their countywide transportation improvement plan, known as SacramentoGo.  Not all projects are created equal, however.  STA has decided to allocate 70 percent of revenues to road and infrastructure projects (including bike and pedestrian safety), and the remaining 30 percent to transit.  While it was reported that Regional Transit, the operator of Sacramento’s buses and light rail, tried to get a higher percentage, STA pointed to consultants and polling, which indicated higher support for a road-focused measure. 

Nevertheless, the funding for transit will be crucial in helping Regional Transit continue capital improvements such as bus and light rail replacement and maintenance.  The most notable projects include an express bus corridor, the Blue line Elk Grove light rail extension, and work on the long awaited Green line light rail to the Sacramento International Airport (12.8 miles long).  Altogether, transit is set to receive just shy of $1 billion if Measure B is passed.

STA has succeeded at the ballot box ever since it was created in 1988.  That year, voters approved Measure A, a 20-year one-half percent sales tax.  Measure A saw the completion of countless of road improvements, freeway safety and congestion relief programs, and transit projects such as the Downtown Intermodal Station and the Southeast Light Rail extension.  In 2004, voters overwhelmingly approved a renewal of Measure A that took effect in 2009.  STA says that Measure B was a vision that had been in the works for roughly three years, and that input from city and county engineers, planning staff and members of the community all were considered. 

A recent poll conducted by EMC Research, a consultant for STA, shows a 69 percent approval for the tax measure, which is above the required two-thirds majority needed to pass.  The only current organized opposition comes from the Save the American River Association because of a new bridge that would be built across the river. 

Potential future opposition could be aimed at Regional Transit, which has encountered a series of financial problems of late.  The agency has recently had to lay off employees, cut services, and increase fares.  However, the fact that Regional Transit is not the main focus of the ballot measure could be a plus.  For those still skeptical, STA boasts of an Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee that will conduct annual audits.  STA also promises that certain priority projects (labeled “Fix-it-First” projects) will be completed before moving on to additional projects.  Regional Transit must also increase their ridership and fare box recovery before beginning expansion projects.   

While anti-tax sentiments can never be underestimated in California, officials hope traditional infrastructure proponents join with transit supporters to pass the measure and bring traffic and congestion relief projects to fruition.