State transportation funding update

Over the last year, in response to significant declines in transportation funding, the state legislature proposed a number of bills to stabilize funding. Ultimately, in April, the state passed Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act. The bill focused on providing a steady stream of transportation funding to address the backlog of state and local transportation projects. The legislation combined new diesel and gasoline taxes with vehicle fees and Caltrans efficiencies to fund local and state roadway repairs (including storm damage local matches), public transportation, congested corridors, bike and pedestrian improvements and more. The bill also allows for cities and counties with their own local tax measure (such as our recently passed Measure D) to apply for additional funds.

With the passage of Measure D locally, and SB 1 statewide, it’s reasonable to ask why new funding measures were necessary and why had state transportation funding been reduced?

The state gas tax was last increased in 1994. With no adjustment for inflation and more fuel efficient vehicles on the road the real (and actual) dollars associated with the tax dropped significantly over the last 20 years. Additionally, most of the remaining price-based excise tax on gasoline was diverted to repay state bond debt service, resulting in a large drop in funding for local governments that had received these funds as part of the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The STIP pays for a number of local road (and bike/pedestrian) improvement projects in our county.

The passage of SB 1 remedies a number of these issues. While it doesn’t fully restore transportation funding to what it could have been with inflation adjustments over time, it does provide a significant new funding stream into our county. The State Department of Finance estimates that, once the tax is fully implemented for 12 full months (in FY 2018/2019) the unincorporated county will receive about $4.5 million in new funding. Local cities will also receive significant boosts in funding from SB 1 with the City of Santa Cruz receiving $1.1 million and Watsonville receiving over $900,000. Additionally, Santa Cruz METRO (bus and paratransit) is projected to receive over $1 million in new funding annually as a result of the passage of the bill.

What does this mean for us locally?

Projects that we’ve outlined as priorities within the mid and south county areas, including improvements on Highway 1 (including the next phase of auxiliary lanes between Soquel and 41st Avenue), the new bike and pedestrian crossing at Mar Vista, local road resurfacing and repairs (in addition to storm damage repairs) are all eligible through this new funding stream to augment our new local Measure D funding. Measure D funding in our district provides local road improvements in Corralitos, Rio Del Mar, Seacliff, La Selva and more, as well as planned highway improvements and funding for METRO, paratransit, active transportation and the coastal trail project. Combined, these two new funding measures will allow us to start addressing the backlog of repairs needed in our county and also make new improvements to the highway, coastal trail and local roads.

The congested corridors funding in the bill will allow for competitive funding to alleviate congested arterials in our county (such as Soquel) as well as Highway 1 projects (the Highway 1 and 9 interchange in Santa Cruz for example). The funding isn’t guaranteed but local agencies can work with Caltrans on applying for projects that meet the criteria. Funding to improve some of these congested corridors would be a welcome improvement for some of the most frustrating locations of congestion in our county.

As always, I appreciate hearing your feedback. If you have any questions feel free to call me at 454-2200.