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Voters Continue Legacy of Strong Support for Transit at the Ballot Box

November 14, 2016

Map of 2016 Transit Elections

November 8, 2016 truly was a historic day for transit ballot initiatives in the United States.  Voters nationwide considered nearly $200 billion in local investment for public transportation at the ballot box.  Of the 49 measures on ballots November 8th, 34 passed.  Adding the 21 out of 28 measures that already passed this year, this brings the 2016 passage rate of transit ballot initiatives to 71 percent, demonstrating that voters have once again continued their legacy of strong support for local investment in transit options.  Since 2000, the average success rate of transit measures remains at 71 percent as well.

Annual Transit Measure Success Rates, 2000-2016

With 77 total transit measures on ballots nationwide, 2016 broke the record for the highest number in a given year.  This follows a growing trend in the number of measures annually, which indicates local communities are increasingly understanding the need for local investment in public transportation and recognizing that ballot initiatives can be a powerful way to meet that need.

Check out this breakdown of some of the biggest transit measures this month, and be sure to join CFTE on our post-election webinar on November 15th at 2pm ET for a deeper dive into the election results and their implications for public transportation moving forward.

The biggest measure to pass this year took place in Los Angeles County, California.  Measure M extended the current half-cent sales tax for public transportation and added a new, permanent half-cent sales tax on top of it.  Revenue from the first forty years of this measure is estimated to direct an additional $120 billion to local transportation projects, about $100 billion of which will directly go to transit.  Now that Measure M has passed, LA Metro can move ahead with its ambitious expansion plan, which includes an extension of the Purple line, numerous light rail extensions, an airport people mover, a Sepulveda Pass transit corridor, improved bus networks, local street and bicycle access enhancements, and new highway construction and capacity improvements.  Measure M passed by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent.

In addition to Measure M in Los Angeles, 17 other transit-related ballot measures went to voters across California.  Of these 17 measures, 59 percent were successful.  Given the two-thirds majority threshold requirement in the state, that passage rate is truly impressive and demonstrates California’s leadership when it comes to investing in transit.  To see specific win/loss percentages for these measures, please see the list below.

Seattle-area residents considered the second-largest transit measure in 2016 on their ballots.  Voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties approved the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) measure on November 8th, a $54 billion tax increase over the next 15 years to expand public transportation throughout the Puget Sound.  Revenue from this measure will be collected from a mix of increases in property taxes, sales taxes, and motor vehicle excise taxes.  Additional revenue will fund numerous projects, including 62 miles of new light rail, new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service, improved regular bus service, and enhanced bike and pedestrian access to stations.  Fifty-five percent of residents voted in favor of ST3, indicating strong support for continued transit investment in the Seattle region.

Voters in the city of Atlanta have been angling for improvements to MARTA service for years, and this November, they were finally successful.  Voters in the city of Atlanta overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund MARTA improvements and expansion by a margin of 72 percent to 28 percent.  This measure is estimated to generate around $2.5 billion, which will go to projects like improving local bus service, creating new streetcar lines, and building infill stations.  If this measure succeeds in producing tangible transit improvements in the City of Atlanta, neighboring cities and counties could follow suit with their own measures to support improvements and expansion for their residents.

It’s important to note that Atlanta city voters also passed a non-transit transportation measure for beltline right-of-way acquisitions, bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, and street improvements.  Fulton County residents outside of the City of Atlanta considered a non-transit transportation package as well, which also passed.

In metro Detroit, voters narrowly defeated a property tax measure to fund the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA), with 49.5 percent voting for the measure and 50.5 percent voting against.   RTA now must wait at least two years before going back to voters with another millage request.  The defeat of this measure will delay build-out of a transit network in the Motor City, which so desperately needs expanded transportation options to accommodate its residents’ needs.

On Election Day, Raleigh-area voters passed a half-cent sales tax to fund the Wake County Transit Plan.  With this successful vote, Wake County becomes the final corner of the Research Triangle to approve a dedicated revenue source for public transportation; Orange County passed a similar measure in 2012 and Durham County passed one in 2011.  The measure in Wake County is aimed at building out a more robust transit network within the county while also connecting Raleigh and Durham by commuter rail.  It passed by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.            

Indianapolis voters in Marion County spoke up for better transit when they went to the polls on Election Day, passing 0.25 percent income tax by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.  This measure is estimated to raise $56 million annually to fund improved service and new BRT construction.  Marion County was the first of six counties in the region to go to voters with such a request since the state legislature passed a bill allowing counties to establish mass transit plans through voter referendums.  The hope is that Marion County’s success will catalyze neighboring counties to ask voters to support similar measures, which would pave the way for the development of a regional system.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) in San Francisco has faced growing safety and reliability challenges due to years of underinvestment in the system.  As a result, voters seeking improved reliability and safety came out to support a $3.5 billion bond measure to bring BART back up to a state of good repair.  This measure is interesting in that it is not promising enticing expansions which often are critical to get voters to support these types of measures.  Instead, San Francisco voters clearly understood the critical need to invest in system maintenance before considering future expansion.  They passed the bond measure by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent.

Residents in Tigard, OR, voted in favor of the proposed MAX Southwest Corridor light rail line.  This advisory measure was the result of a charter amendment passed in 2014 requiring voter approval before the city can contribute funding or other resources toward a rail transit project.  Had voters struck down the proposed extension this November, it would have been very difficult for the project to secure the funds necessary to complete the expansion.  Voters approved the measure by a margin of 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent.

Broward County voters in the Ft. Lauderdale area of Florida defeated a penny sales tax, half of which would have gone to transportation, including transit, and half of which would have gone to other infrastructure projects.  Each half-cent sales tax was a separate question on voters’ ballots, and the transportation portion passed.  The infrastructure portion, however, failed, and both had to be approved for either to move forward.

Virginia Beach residents considered an advisory measure regarding light rail on their November 8 ballots.  It asked, “Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”  Its ultimate inclusion on the ballot was an effort by opponents of the light rail expansion to keep the project from moving forward.  The money for the project had already been allocated by the state.  This measure failed with 43 percent voting for it and 57 percent voting against.  While non-binding, several City Council members have said they would follow public sentiment expressed in the referendum, which jeopardizes the future of the light rail extension to Virginia Beach.

It’s worth calling attention to four measures that appeared on statewide ballots this year.  All were wins for transit.

In California, the “No Blank Checks” initiative would have required a public vote on any state project in which $2 billion or more in revenue bonds would be issued.  The California high-speed rail project would likely surpass this threshold, meaning that if successful, it would have impeded the project.  This measure failed to pass, which can ultimately be considered a win for high-speed rail in California.

Maine voters passed Questions 6, a $100 million transportation bond measure, by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent.  This bond will fund an array of transportation projects throughout the state, and transit is listed as eligible for funding.  Maine has a strong history of supporting statewide measures for transit at the ballot box.

Voters across New Jersey and Illinois both considered constitutional amendments to require additional funding to go to transit.  In New Jersey, Question 2 asked voters if they supported a requirement that all fuel tax revenue be allocated to transportation projects.  Currently, a portion of that revenue can be used for other purposes.  This measure passed 54 percent to 46 percent.  In Illinois, the ballot question asked if voters supported restricting the use of transportation revenue solely for transportation projects (including transit).  This measure passed 79 percent to 21 percent.

In addition to these measures, you can find a full list of November 8 transit initiatives and their passage rates here:

Flagstaff, AZ:  Pass, 71%-29% (Win)
Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, CA:  Pass, 82%-18% (Win)
Contra Costa County, CA:  Fail, 63%-37% (Loss)
Los Angeles County, CA:  Pass, 70%-30% (Win)
Merced County, CA:  Pass, 69%-31% (Win)
Monterey County, CA:  Pass, 69%-31% (Win)
Placer County, CA:  Fail, 64%-36% (Loss)
Sacramento County, CA:  Fail, 66%-34% (Loss)
San Diego, CA:  Fail, 57%-43% (Loss)
San Francisco, CA (creating fund):  Pass, 66%-34% (Win)
San Francisco, CA (spending mechanism):  Fail, 35%-65% (Loss)
San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, CA:  Pass, 70%-30% (Win)
San Luis Obispo County, CA:  Fail, 65%-35% (Loss)
Santa Clara County, CA:  Pass, 71%-29% (Win)
Santa Cruz, CA:  Pass, 67%-33% (Win)
Stanislaus County, CA:  Pass, 71%-29% (Win)
Statewide California:  Fail, 48%-52% (Win)
Ventura County, CA:  Fail, 57%-43% (Loss)
Boulder County, CO:  Pass, 69%-31% (Win)
Lafayette, CO:  Fail, 45.5%-54.5% (Loss)
Routt County, CO:  Pass, 62%-38% (Win)
Broward County, FL:  Fail, Transpo. Measure passed 51%-49%, but infrastructure measure failed 61%-38%. Both had to pass for either to move forward (Loss)
Atlanta, GA:  Pass, 72%-28% (Win)
Statewide, IL:  Pass, 79%-21% (Win)
Marion County, IN:  Pass, 59%-41% (Win)
Prince George's County, MD:  Pass, 85%-15% (Win)
Statewide ME:  Pass, 61%-39% (Win)
Eaton County, MI:  Pass, 70%-30% (Win)
Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw County, MI:  Fail, 49.5%-50.5% (Loss)
Greensboro, NC:  Pass, 73%-27% (Win)
Wake County, NC: Pass, 53%-47% (Win)
Statewide, NJ:  Pass, 54%-46% (Win)
Franklin County, OH:  Pass, 72%-28% (Win)
Lorain County, OH:  Fail, 26%-74% (Loss)
Lucas County, OH:  Pass, 58%-41% (Win)
Stark County, OH:  Pass, 63%-37% (Win)
Tigard County, OR:  Pass, 50.2%-49.8% (Win)
Charleston, SC:  Pass, 51%-49% (Win)
Lago Vista, TX:  Pass, 56%-44% (Win)
Richland Hills, TX:  Fail, 45%-55% (Loss)
Summit County, UT:  Pass, 69%-31% (Win)
Washington County, UT:  Fail, 48% - 52% (Loss)
Arlington County, VA:  Pass, 76%-24% (Win)
Fairfax County, VA:  Pass, 64%-36% (Win)
Virginia Beach, VA:  Fail, 43%-57% (Loss)
Kitsap, WA:  Pass, 51%-49% (Win)
Seattle, WA:  Pass, 55%-45% (Win)
Spokane, WA:  Pass, 55%-44% (Win)
Jackson and Teton Counties, WY:  Fail, 42%-53% (Loss)

For details regarding all of these measures, be sure to check out the elections page of the CFTE website.

Interested in learning more about these measures and hearing some analysis and context?  Register now for CFTE’s post-election webinar on 2016 Transit Election Trends!

Please contact with questions or comments.