Modesto Bee Opinion Editorial: Vito Chiesa: “Consider Increased Gas Tax A Worthwhile Investment In Our Roads”

March 30, 2017
California is at a crossroad when it comes to how we fix the highways, roads and bridges in our state and in our hometowns. We can either continue driving on rutted roads full of potholes, or we can decide to fix them and maintain them better so we get a full return on our investment.

That’s why I am urging our local State Senator and Assemblymember to join me in supporting the recently released compromise plan to fix our roads.

Let me tell you how bad things are in Stanislaus County. Historically, we have resurfaced 75 to 100 miles of roadway per year. But because of lack of funding, in the past two years we have only resurfaced 3.5 miles per year. We have had to reduce pothole patching by 50 percent and substantially reduced maintenance for bridges, shoulders and striping.

As a result, Stanislaus County roads are falling apart. Our Pavement Condition Index (developed by the Army Corps of Engineers) is in the 50s on a scale of 0 (failed) to 100 (excellent).

How did we get here? The state taxes every gallon of gasoline 38 cents, using this money as the main source of funds to maintain our streets and roads. But the tax hasn’t increased since 1994. Between inflation, and advancements in vehicle fuel efficiency, we have lost roughly 50 percent of the buying power we used to have.

We need to raise new revenues for roads. Some say that there’s plenty of money in the general fund to pay for road repairs. But with a backlog of repairs standing at $130 billion, that’s not feasible.

We need to invest more in our roads now because letting problems fester only makes them worse and more expensive to fix. The plan announced earlier this week would mean that drivers in California pay about $10 more per month.

That small amount every month makes sense to me as a smart investment because driving on bad roads means I pay far more than that to fix and maintain my personal vehicle and the trucks I use in my farming business; about $750 a year more for each one. If we fix our roads, I won’t have to fix my vehicles as often, and neither will you.

The deal just announced this week by Gov. Jerry Brown and several key lawmakers achieves that goal. Senate Bill 1 will provide cities and counties with an additional $1.5 billion a year to maintain local infrastructure and the same amount to maintain the state highway system.

The plan will generate tens of millions of dollars of new revenue each year so Stanislaus County and our city governments can make road safety improvements, fill potholes and repair local streets, highways, bridges and overpasses.

All for about $10 a month. I think it’s worth it, and projects in Stanislaus County and throughout the San Joaquin Valley get the priority they deserve.

I know that both Senator Anthony Cannella and Assemblymember Adam Gray have been working to ensure that our community gets its fair share. And I hope they continue working with the governor and the bill’s authors to support smart and sustainable public investment in our future.

In addition to new revenues, this state transportation deal also comes with protections and oversight to ensure we’re not handing Sacramento a blank check. The deal contains tough accountability requirements including regular audits and oversight by the new office of the Transportation Inspector General to ensure state lawmakers can’t misspend the money. It also mandates strict constitutional protections to guarantee the money is spent only on transportation projects.

This isn’t easy, but neither is letting our road and bridges crumble.

Vito Chiesa represents Stanislaus County’s 2nd supervisorial district; he wrote this for The Modesto Bee.