California gas-tax increases set to start in November will raise an estimated $5.4 billion a year statewide for 10 years, a robust increase in spending coming at a time when work to finish the expansion of Highway 101 in Marin and Sonoma counties and repairing neighborhood streets and bridges is critically needed, Sonoma County Transportation Authority Executive Director Suzanne Smith said Wednesday.
Addressing about 250 people at the morning meeting of the Sonoma County Alliance in Santa Rosa, Smith said the tax increase was part of state Senate Bill 1 signed by Governor Brown in April. Voters are set to face a question in November whether to protect the new funds for use only as intended “in perpetuity,” but voters may also face a proposal to repeal the increase, Smith said.
“Everyone wants this money to be spent efficiently and effectively,” she said.
SB 1 has two oversight provisions to achieve this, Smith said. There would be a new Office of Audits and Investigations, with a governor-appointed special inspector general, who will conduct an annual audit. That would be coupled with oversight of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and public hearings.
It would be “ensuring that the primary focus of Caltrans will be on delivery and transparency — doing what they say they will do,” Smith said.
The overall infrastructure improvement plan calls for Caltrans to repair or replace some 17,000 miles of pavement, 55,000 culverts and drains, 7,700 signals, signs and sensors, and work on 500 bridges.
Some $2.5 billion of this total is earmarked for congestion relief, such as in the Novato Narrows and along the 21-mile Highway 37 corridor; $3 billion for trade corridor improvements, $7.5 billion for improved transit and rail service, and $1 billion for pedestrian and cyclist safety projects.
For Sonoma County, $4 million would be available for upgrades to local roads in 2017, $10 million in 2018 and $14 million per year thereafter — with a 50-50 split of these funds between pavement and maintenance operations.
She said Santa Rosa can expect to receive $4 million year. Smith added that the money will go straight to this city after a list of projects is submitted for review.
In addition to statewide funds, $20 million will be contributed from Sonoma County for Highway 101 alone. She said “We will know by spring if we will receive another $70 million targeted for this expansion project from SB 1 funds.”
The new revenue comes from a combination of new user-related taxes and fees plus savings. SB 1 includes a 12-cent-a-gallon gasoline excise-tax increase, a 20-cent-a-gallon diesel fuel excise tax and a 4 percent diesel sales tax starting in November. New registration fees for electric vehicles will be assessed, ranging from $25 to $175 based on vehicle value and beginning in January 2018. A zero-emissions fee of $100 a year starts in 2020.
This will be the first gasoline tax increase since the early 1990s.
In addition, Caltrans will also identify $100 million in staffing and project delivery savings through improved efficiency measures.
Smith expects SMART to also seek SB 1 funding for local bus-bridge operations and for bike and pedestrian projects.
Bridge-toll increase proposal
Another funding proposal, if approved by voters, could also add much-needed funds for North Bay transportation projects. Backers of Regional Measure 3 (RM 3) propose up to a $3 bridge toll increase phased in over time for all but the Golden Gate Bridge, along with a financial incentive for Fastrack users.
Changes in funding for North Bay roads
• New funding from state Senate Bill 1 will be a significant benefit to California’s highways and local roads.
• SB 1 is transformational funding for transportation that is structured to address deferred maintenance and maintaining the road system for both the short a long term.
• A companion measure being considered to address growth and large regional projects is Regional Measure 3 – a proposed toll increase that could be before voters in 2018.
• Regional Measure 3 will help finish Highway 101 widening and get work started on Highway 37.
• At the local level, help is still needed to ensure local matching funds are available to compete well for state and regional money.