Monday, April 27, 2015

Transportation funding an issue in Solano County

By Melissa Murphy, The Reporter, Vacaville

Posted: 04/24/15, 7:36 PM PDT |

It’s an “end of an era” when it comes to funding for transportation improvements in Solano County.

During Friday’s Solano Economic Development Corporation’s monthly breakfast, the business community received a state, regional and local perspective on transportation issues from Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Solano, Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering and Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls.

Frazier also is chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. Spering also serves on the STA board and on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Spering explained that a “historic chapter” of funding transportation projects that the county has seen in the past is coming to an end.

Improvements along highway 12 between Fairfield and Rio Vista and on Jameson Canyon between Solano and Napa counties, new truck scales on eastbound Interstate 80 and the first phase for the current project for I-80/I-680/SR12 all had an identifiable funding source. Future projects aren’t so fortunate.

The good news is that the positive things that are happening for the Bay Area economy will eventually ripple into Solano County.

“These are remarkable times for the Bay Area,” he said. “That vibrant economy is coming our direction, but it spotlights the weaknesses in the transit system.”

“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Spering continued and added that funds from Proposition 1B have run its course, additional bonds have been exhausted.

He explained that other counties have invested in themselves in the form of a transportation tax, something voters in Solano have been asked to do three times.

“We need a balanced funding plan with a federal, state and regional investment, with a local commitment,” Spering said. “The trend is matching funding.”

The end of an era is coming, “What shall we do for an encore?” Spering asked. ... “There is a lot of opportunity for Solano County, but we have to have the resources.”

He added that in order to protect the quality of life in the county, it must address its road infrastructure.

He urged the federal government to “quit kicking the can down the road” and move forward with a new transportation bill.

Spering said it’s exciting to talk about new projects, and the community as a whole believes transportation issues are a priority. The community, however, becomes silent when it comes to funding those grand projects.

“We can’t put our heads in the sand,” he said. “We have to help ourselves.”

Frazier said he’s passionate about improving the infrastructure in California and is doing what he can at the capital to see that it’s done.

“We’re not just broke,” he said. “We’re broken.”

He explained that the state has lost its focus and as a result “voters are unwilling to invest in us.”

This year will be different if Frazier has his way with a “Go Bold or Go Home” approach.

“This is the year to make a move to fund transportation,” he said and explained that his approach will “spread the pain.”

He admitted that it will be a tough vote because people don’t trust that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will spend the money wisely.

Frazier said he wants Caltrans to build vibrant trade corridors for the benefit of the state.

“We need to get shippers, manufacturers and businesses back in the game,” he said. “We need to work with all of you. I propose a long-term vision and we need a long-term commitment and long-term trust. ... I want to put California back in business.”

The assemblyman explained that the two-thirds vote threshold needed to pass a special tax by a city, county or special district is the hang-up in Solano County, where the majority of voters supported the transportation tax.

In February, Frazier introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, which would “provide that the imposition, extension, or increase of a special tax by a local government for the purpose of providing funding for local transportation projects, as defined, requires the approval of 55 percent of its voters voting on the proposition.”

“The voters need to decide,” he said. “Solano is deprived of funding for infrastructure and maintenance.”

Halls shared that funding for transportation coming from the federal gas tax revenue hasn’t changed since 1994 and funding from the state gas tax was reduced by 6 cents per gallon, a savings at the pump for motorists, but a $5 million cut to funding for transportation improvements.

Halls explained that the State Board of Equalization took a big bite out of what would have been coming to the county at the same time the conditions of the county’s pavement will likely drop from “fair” to “poor” by 2028.

He agreed that a top priority in the county is road condition, behind public safety and education, but the public has no confidence in the government spending the money wisely.

The government leaders hope that public outreach explaining the need and the importance of the public paying its fair share will change voters’ opinion. They likened it to the 1/8 cent sales tax for library services approved by 68 percent majority of the Solano County voters in 1998. At that time voters were promised more books, more hours and more services for young people — the library system delivered on that promise. The tax would end and have to be renewed 16 years after its inception. Voters returned to the polls in 2012, the middle of the great recession, where 80 percent majority of the voters in Solano approved the sales tax extension.