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On Feb. 28, the California Transportation Commission demonstrated that you can’t stuff $11 billion in transportation projects into a bag that only holds $4.5 billion.

But that begs a bigger question.

How will the residents of this state ever pay for all, or even half, of the transportation projects that need to be completed to reduce traffic congestion?

Across the state the CTC and Caltrans estimated a backlog of $120 – $140 billion in transportation projects that need to be built. And the cost to maintain this system rises every year. This includes passenger rail like Amtrak and mass transit projects like the trolley — not just highways.

Currently, most of the money to fund this system comes from various state taxes that motorists pay when they fuel their cars or trucks. These revenues are then divided up by formula and allocated to the various regions across the state to be combined with local funds like San Diego’s TransNet Sales Tax to build the transportation projects that we need.

But stop and think for a moment about the long distance commuter who moved to Riverside County to buy the affordable home but commutes to his job in either Orange, San Diego or Los Angeles County. He fills up his tank in Riverside on Monday morning, so Riverside benefits from the fuel taxes he pays, but he uses a lot of highway in the other counties and those counties don’t get a proportionate share of the fuel taxes he paid in Riverside.

Now let’s really stir the pot by imagining that this commuter has a hybrid or electric vehicle. Well, environmentally speaking, good for him. But on the other hand, is he paying his fair share to build and maintain the transportation system that he uses just like the guy in the lane next to him? This is a problem that we’ve got to address for the future. We have to develop a revenue system that fairly spreads the costs across all the users and generates enough revenue to maintain and continually improve the system. If we fail to do this, we’ll never reduce the backlog of needed projects and your commutes will only get longer and more stressful.

And about those $11 billion in transportation projects: Regions across the state submitted highway projects to the CTC totaling $11 billion that would reduce traffic congestion at the worst points in the system. The problem was that the voter approved Transportation Bond measure only allocated $4.5 billion to this category.

So, the CTC could choose only one third of the 146 projects that were submitted for consideration. My criteria for selection was simple: Select those projects that would provide the greatest amount of congestion relief in the shortest amount of time to the largest number of people.

Then, I wanted to make sure that those projects had all the money necessary to complete construction. After all, a project that is 90 percent complete doesn’t help the motorist stuck in traffic one iota.

Next I’ll shine the light on passenger rail service.

— JOHN CHALKER

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