March 31, 2017
By Roger Dickinson
Major public investment in our roads and transportation infrastructure has been a key to California’s growth into a global economic superpower. But in recent years, many of the roads, highways and transit systems that connect our economy and our communities have fallen into disrepair – threatening our state’s economic growth and the safety and health of our residents.
This week, I stood with Gov. Jerry Brown and a broad coalition of business, labor and community leaders in support of a bold new plan to reinvest in our state and in our future – a plan to fix and maintain our roads, provide new funding for public transit and address the needs of our growing state.
The plan, Senate Bill 1, called the Road Repair and Accountability Act, invests $52.4 billion over the next decade to fix California’s crumbling roads and bridges, and will create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs. It will help fill hundreds of thousands of potholes, smooth thousands of miles of pavement and repair crumbling infrastructure that damages vehicles and worsens traffic congestion. The plan includes funding to modernize and expand public transit systems, to connect workers to jobs and help clean our air and protect our environment.
Lawmakers need to pass this bill immediately.
The Legislature has not raised revenue to address transportation needs in more than two decades – since George Deukmejian was governor. Since then, California has about 8 million more people and we drive more than 350 billion miles a year. We have more motorists driving more miles than any other state – and the state needs more revenue to repair its battered infrastructure.
The longer we delay fixing roads, the more serious and costly problems become. It costs eight times the amount to completely replace a road than it does to regularly maintain one. We saw evidence of that this winter, as storms sent roads, bridges and highways crumbling, disrupting commuters across the state. Caltrans’ emergency repair bill for 2017 has ballooned from the normal $150 million per year to more than $800 million – and counting. Cities and counties have at least an additional $400 million in storm-related damage.
Some say that we don’t need new revenues to bolster our transportation network.
That is simply not true. Their plan would substantially reduce funding for other key priorities like education and health care, and ensure that road repairs continue to be neglected in the future.
Our state has $130 billion in needed road repairs – more than the entire state general fund. SB 1’s investments are based on the principle set forth by President Ronald Reagan when he increased the federal gas tax in 1982 – that those who use the roads should help pay to maintain them.
This deal provides funding for road improvement projects in every community in California. It also includes $7.5 billion for public transportation, which can help communities reduce air pollution and meet our state’s ambitious clean-air goals.
This new revenue comes with tough new oversight and accountability measures to guarantee the expenditures are spent efficiently. Most important, the package contains a new constitutional amendment that prohibits the use of these funds for anything other than transportation improvements.
This plan is bold and fair, and long overdue. Too many Californians spend too much time sitting in traffic, waiting for trains or buses, or navigating dangerous streets. It’s time to end the gridlock in our Legislature and on our roads. This new public investment will improve the safety and quality of life for our residents, and allow California to continue to lead the way toward a better future.
Roger Dickinson, a former state assemblyman and Sacramento County supervisor, is executive director of Transportation California, a Sacramento-based construction industry organization. He can be contacted at [email protected].