December 21, 2017
By: Pam Marino
For years, local transportation planners faced shrinking budgets, which meant road improvement projects were left by the wayside and traffic and road conditions only got worse.
Two events in the past year are about to make Monterey County do a major U-turn, however, with more than $30 million a year expected to flow into transportation budgets to tackle projects from potholes to freeway expansions.
Currently, 38 improvements are slated for construction between 2018 and 2040, including a passenger rail extension from Silicon Valley to Salinas, a new Highway 156 interchange at Castroville Boulevard and a toll road expressway along 156, widening Highway 101 in Salinas from four to six lanes, adding roundabouts and wildlife corridors to Highway 68 between Monterey and Salinas, and bolstering bus service and transportation for seniors and disabled people.
The two events are now sources of cash from Measure X, the 3.8-percent gas tax passed by Monterey County voters in 2016, and Senate Bill 1, a combination of new gas taxes and fees approved by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last April.
Measure X is expected to raise $60 million over 30 years, according to the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, with 60 percent distributed to cities and the county for road maintenance and safety and 40 percent used for regional projects.
SB 1 could bring in double that amount to Monterey County alone, TAMC estimates. The bill raised gas taxes for all California vehicle owners on Nov. 1 by 12 cents per gallon, 20 cents for diesel.
Starting Jan. 1, all owners will pay an annual transportation fee depending on the value of their vehicles. Vehicles worth less than $5,000 will pay $25 a year, while those over $60,000 will pay $175 a year. Monies raised will be distributed to local and regional projects through a combination of formula-based funds and competitive grants.
“Nobody wants new taxes, but the reality is Californians will pay more for unanticipated maintenance if we don’t move along and improve our infrastructure,” TAMC spokesperson Theresa Wright says. She calls the impact of the monies on Monterey County’s transportation infrastructure “significant,” meaning planners can accelerate needed projects over the next 22 years.
On Dec. 14, TAMC released a draft regional transportation plan for public review and comment. It’s part of the bigger regional effort, the draft 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan produced by the Association of Monterey Governments for Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.
(A series of workshops are scheduled in January by AMBAG, with more in April, and the public comment deadline is Feb. 5. A final plan will go to AMBAG in June for approval.)
Even with $4.8 billion expected through 2040, TAMC planner Grant Leonard says double that amount is needed for all the projects on the agency’s wishlist.
Eight projects will have to sit out for now, including widening Highway 1 in Sand City, the Westside Bypass around Salinas from Boronda Road to Davis Road, and the Monterey Branch Line Light Rail, which would use the former 16-mile railway between Castroville and Monterey.