Op-Ed: Time to Enact a Practical Transportation Funding Plan

This report from Save Our Streets has some arguments for why transportation funding needs to be fixed
This report from Save California Streets offers a few arguments for why transportation funding needs to be fixed

In response to our recent story about legislative efforts to find a compromise on transportation funding, Streetsblog received the following post from Art Hadnett, president of HNTB’s West Division.

HNTB is a national architecture, engineering, planning, and construction firm. Its first California project was Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco Bridge in 1914, and since then the firm has provided services for the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, the 405-Sepulveda Pass Improvements project, and the expansion of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, among other projects. HNTB is currently working with the City of Los Angeles on design and construction of the Sixth Street Viaduct, as well as design and engineering on the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

While there’s little dispute that deteriorating roads and highways in Los Angeles and throughout the state need an infusion of cash for rehabilitation and maintenance, there has been little agreement on a funding strategy. Our transportation infrastructure rests, precariously, on an antiquated, inefficient funding engine—the 20-year-old gas tax—and we can no longer rely on a single source to maintain the network in a state of good repair.

Under the transportation plan developed by Assemblyman Jim Frazier and Senator Jim Beall, funds would be generated from multiple sources, including increased fees on large trucks; allocation of cap-and-trade proceeds; a nominal surcharge on electric vehicles; and raising the gas tax, diesel tax, and vehicle registration fees. With these sources of new revenue, we would finally possess the financial resources to tackle the $59 billion highway maintenance backlog, $78 billion local funding shortfall and, most importantly, to stabilize our broken funding system.

The Beall-Frazier plan—a compromise package from Senate and Assembly transportation leadership—is a practical solution to an issue Governor Jerry Brown highlighted over a year ago. The bill will raise over $7 billion annually to fund trade corridor improvements and road maintenance and rehabilitation—more than double Governor Brown’s $3.6 billion proposal.

Our crumbling roads take a toll on California residents—both mentally and fiscally. According to TRIP, a transportation research organization, Californians lose $54.6 billion annually due to roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or unsafe. In Los Angeles, that translates to $2,826 per motorist per year. If we don’t act now, we will continue to experience longer delays, greater frustration, and exponentially higher costs to repair or replace existing infrastructure.

With the country’s largest economy, California’s ability to move goods is a significant contributor to its position in the global marketplace. According to TRIP, $2.8 trillion in goods are shipped annually to and from sites statewide, highlighting the importance of a well-maintained network to the state and national economies. Investing in our state’s freight corridors is a smart strategy that ensures a dependable pathway for the goods that drive our economy. We cannot neglect this unique asset.

Another recent report asserts that one quarter of California’s local streets and roads will be in failed condition by 2024 (California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment Report).  These are the roads that we rely on to get to work, take our children to school, and go about our daily lives. We have an ethical responsibility to one another to ensure our streets and highways are safe now and in the future.

The smart, sensible transportation bill proposed by Assemblyman Frazier and Senator Beall addresses all these issues and provides a fair approach to funding provisions that will fix our roads and strengthen California’s economy. Let’s enact this well-conceived plan and start rebuilding the nation’s best transportation network.

  • Vooch

    The Feds should simply privatize the Interstates will absolutely no oversight of tolls.

    At least privatized interstates will pay local property taxes

  • That may come in the form of the “California Road Charge,” now a pilot program. “Will California’s Road Charge Fix California’s Transportation Funding Shortfall?”

  • Ray

    A free road system is a broken system, this is the fundamental economic
    problem that everyone likes to ignore. Until the public wakes up and
    understands that each mile of road may have a different value based
    supply & demand, we will continue down a path to nowhere. Today’s
    transportation system needs demand based road pricing. It makes a lot
    more sense to wait at home for availability on the road than to idle in
    traffic when there’s no road availability. Once proper pricing is
    established, the market will create the most efficient means to use that
    road availability, most likely a form of mass transit / uberpools over
    the most in-demand roadways and personal cars / uberXs over the least
    in-demand roadways. Another added benefit is plenty of road funds and proper transportation driven development of cities.

  • JustJake

    Just like the activist bicycle coalitions, the anti-car people, the anti-parking crowd, and the suburbs-are-evil folks, these type studies and articles diminish the conversation and are counterproductive to finding common ground for a path forward.

  • Frustration aired by SF Chronicle editorial board, Aug. 29:
    “California’s bad roads might stay that way, thanks to Legislature.”

    They too point to the TRIP study, but rather than citing the annual $2800 cost to Californians, they write,
    “Studies — like the 2015 one by national nonprofit the Road Information Program showing that 74 percent of the roads in the San Francisco-Oakland area are in poor condition — were noted” in hearings held by the legislature, which subsequently failed to act because they are unable to get to 2/3 to pass a gas tax and vehicle fee increase like the one proposed by Sen. Beall and Assemblyman Frazier that Art Hadnet supports.

  • I think the study can create political momentum to address the transportation deficit. If nothing else, it provides factual data for proponents to increase investment.

    How far it goes in the political arena is another story, but it helps. Plus, it gets media attention, and helps educate people who otherwise may only be concerned about keeping taxes low.

  • JustJake

    I do have a problem with studies that confuse issues rather than clarify. And “the take-away, which is that there is a deficit of transportation investment”? This isn’t really a debate. This is a given. The choices are about a path forward, not a over-hyped study that raises the level of hyperbole.

  • It’s both, and more. See my response to JustJake below.

  • I reported on the TRIP study for Planetizen. com.
    I don’t have a problem with the study that does confuse matters by combining metrics like congestion with structurally deficient bridges, but I think that shouldn’t be the take-away, which is that there is a deficit of transportation investment, and costs to pay for users of the system for that underpayment. It would be much cheaper to invest more by paying a higher gas tax.

    TRIP looked at the results of underinvestment by monetizing costs in:
    *Additional traffic crashes
    *Increased costs on vehicle due to poor infrastructure
    *Congestion, i.e., time lost

    “Bad Roads and Bridges Costing California Motorists as Much as $2,800 Annually”
    Aug 24, 2016

  • Alicia

    Californians lose $54.6 billion annually due to roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or unsafe. In Los Angeles, that translates to $2,826 per motorist per year. If we don’t act now, we will continue to experience longer delays, greater frustration, and exponentially higher costs to repair or replace existing infrastructure.

    What does “lose” mean? Does it mean lost work productivity and therefore wages? Does it mean wear and tear on the car? Clarify, please.

  • JustJake

    “According to TRIP, a transportation research organization, Californians lose $54.6 billion annually due to roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or unsafe” “$2,826 per motorist per year”. Amazing, the ridiculous statistics that are being tossed around.


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