Transit Should Be the Backbone of Sacramento’s Transportation System

By Steve Cohn & Roger Dickinson |

The Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA) is considering a sales tax measure for November 2020 to double the existing half-cent transportation sales tax to a full cent. The need for more local funding is clear as the County’s chronically underfunded road and transit system faces a $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance and needed safety and congestion relief projects; increasing demands from residents for more transportation choices; and stringent air quality mandates to protect our residents from our number one pollution source – vehicles. Although the state gas tax has helped, local matching funds are even more important to compete for state and federal funds. But the question remains: how would the $125 million/year in funds expected to be raised by the new tax measure be spent?

Business, labor, and community leaders have coalesced to form Sacramento Metro Advocates for Rail and Transit (SMART). SMART recognizes that changing our transportation infrastructure and practices to shift people towards active and transit modes bring a competitive advantage in the 21st Century. The proposed sales tax measure could shape our transportation system for generations.

Next month, the SACOG Board adopts the region’s 2020 MTP/SCS Update, linking the region’s land use, air quality, and transportation needs. This plan would require spending 50% of the region’s transportation dollars on fix-it-first road projects and 50% on transit. Yet the last STA measure proposed to voters in 2016 directed only 25-30% to transit, even though the urbanized portions of the City and County of Sacramento will need to do even better than 50% for regional success.

The Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change adopted transportation goals closer to the mark. By 2045, this Commission envisions 40% of all trips by active transportation, 50% by transit, and the remaining 10% in electric vehicles. We support these ambitious goals which require that future funding be proportionally allocated to make these mode shifts possible.

LA and the Bay Area already recognized that transit must play a key role in helping them ensure their future mobility. They increased local funding for public transportation, and now pull down larger shares of competitive state funding. We must do likewise.

If the STA Board moves too quickly to adopt a business-as-usual expenditure plan, we risk another failure like Measure B in 2016, and worse yet, economic stagnation and environmental harm for future generations. Therefore, SMART is asking STA to delay adoption to February/March 2020, to give STA and critical stakeholders the time needed to craft the best measure while still leaving ample time to present it to voters.

The new measure could “grow the pie,” generating more needed funding by extending the sunset period beyond 30 years and/or aligning the termination dates of the existing Measure A and the new measure. The new measure should also be flexible, e.g., including 10-year reviews of the funding plan to adapt to changing needs and technology to serve long-term mobility, social, economic, and environmental objectives. The measure could establish sources for specific services like senior and disabled, youth, micro-transit, or bus rapid transit. The measure must make Sacramento competitive for state and federal transportation grant programs, like SB 1 congested corridors, local partnership, and active transportation, and help us meet regional requirements in SB 375 Sustainable Communities Strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled and carbon emissions.

Finally, the measure must emphasize “complete streets” for road rehabilitation, and alternative funding sources for new road projects. Moving in this direction will allow Sacramento County’s bustling cities, suburbs and residents to grow and thrive, using our sales tax dollars to make our existing roads and public transit truly useful and sustainable for all.

Roger Dickinson

Steve Cohn

Co-Founders, Sacramento Metro Advocates for Rail and Transit

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