By: Greg Becker and Celeste Ford
There’s an old saying: pay now or pay later.
When it comes to the crumbling conditions of our local roads and state highways, we should change the saying to pave now or pave later.
Strap on your seat belts, because here are the numbers, and they’re grim: Each year, California is short nearly $6 billion of the funds needed just to repair and repave our 50,000 miles of state highways. The annual need is $8 billion. California’s gas tax, our traditional source of road repair revenue, can only fund $2.2 billion. Our local streets and roads are even worse, with a 10-year shortfall exceeding $78 billion.
In fact, our state highways and local roads have deteriorated so much that — on average — each of us as motorists pays $762 annually in excess gas and vehicle wear-and-tear. In the most recent storm, California highways and roads were damaged with more than $1 billion in additional, unplanned, emergency repairs.
It’s why, as members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, we’ve joined 95 other small and large Silicon Valley-based employers to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to pass Sen. Jim Beall’s SB 1, the Road Repair & Accountability Act of 2017. SB 1 is a balanced combination of necessary revenue and needed reforms to ensure we have more money for traffic relief, while also using our existing dollars as cost effectively as possible. To further ensure accountability, SB 1 is accompanied by a constitutional amendment to ensure funds cannot be diverted from the transportation improvements in SB 1.
We can’t just address pothole repairs. We must also tackle the traffic tie-ups that have strangled Bay Area commutes. The Bay Area is home to two of the five most congested traffic corridors in the United States, like Highway 101 through Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties. SB 1 focuses $2.5 billion for improvements in California’s key corridors, which could include upgrades to Caltrain Commuter Rail Service, express lanes, bike/pedestrian options in neighboring streets and other forms of congestion relief. The measure also provides capital and operating funds for transit, which could provide the state share to improve and extend BART, buses, express buses, and ferries across the San Francisco Bay.
Do we really need more revenue? Consider this: Transportation funding hasn’t increased in California in 23 years, since Republican Gov. George Deukmejian championed our last gas tax increase in 1994. Since it wasn’t adjusted for inflation, and with the improved fuel efficiency our cars now enjoy, our gas tax has lost well over half its purchasing power during a time when our state’s population has increased by nearly 8 million people.
SB 1 recognizes that with better roads, we all benefit, so we all should contribute. About two-thirds of the revenue would be generated from the fuel taxes each of us pay as users of our roads. Since more and more cars are running without any gas at all, SB 1 includes a modest zero-emission vehicle fee so that nobody gets a free ride. Finally, a transportation improvement fee — based on the value of our vehicles — rounds out the funding needed. For those of us driving high-end cars, we pay more. For a senior or student on modest means in an older car, they pay less.
Here’s our challenge. If you think the gridlock on Bay Area roads is bad, it pales in comparison to the gridlock that can grip our state capitol. The members of our State Assembly and Senate need to hear from each of us. For better roads, more transit and traffic relief, call your legislator today. Go to www.fixroads.com/call/
Greg Becker is CEO of Silicon Valley Bank and board chair of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Celeste Ford is founder and CEO of Stellar Solutions. They wrote this for The Mercury News.