County reps, civic leaders urge action to reinstate funding for road projects – including French Valley InterchangeMarch 7, 2016
INDIO – Riverside County supervisors, labor leaders and civic activists today urged state lawmakers to patch a funding gap exceeding three quarters of a billion dollars that, if unaddressed, may leave the county and other jurisdictions unable to proceed with major transportation projects, including the French Valley Interchange.
“You don’t always see business and labor agree, but we need a transportation funding package,” said John Hakel, executive director of the Southern California Partnership for Jobs.
He was among about 10 people who spoke during a news briefing at the Interstate 10/Jefferson Street interchange in Indio, where an infrastructure improvement project is underway. It was used as an example of the projects
imperiled over the next five years by an anticipated $754 million deficit in the State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, announced last week by the California Transportation Commission.
Officials said the shortfall will impact four projects in Riverside County: the Coachella Valley Link, or multi-use path, between Coachella and Palm Springs; the Interstate 15 French Valley Parkway Interchange in Temecula;
the state Route 60 truck lane additions in the Banning Pass; and expansion of a connector bridge to Interstate 215 in western Riverside County.
The total five-year loss to the county is estimated to be $84 million. Supervisor Chuck Washington expressed hope that all sides in the Legislature would “come together” to find a solution to keep the projects on track.
Supervisor Marion Ashley said lawmakers need to pass — and the governor needs to sign — “a funding package immediately.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Coachella Mayor Steve Hernandez, who noted that the inland region “is just one of hundreds in California that have a backlog” of transportation projects that are in critical of money.
Proponents of restoring infrastructure funding have formed a united front under the “Fix Our Roads” coalition, based in Sacramento.
Deferred maintenance on the state highway system totals about $59 billion — money required to return the system to satisfactory condition — while roughly $78 billion is needed for repairs and upgrades on local streets and roads throughout California, according to the campaign.
According to the California Transportation Commission, declining gas tax revenue is to blame for the STIP losses. Even though the state’s gasoline tax is among the highest in the nation, revenues have fallen as pump prices have
spiraled south thanks to the oil price slump. Another factor is the motoring public’s reliance on more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrids, and electric cars, as well as driving less, officials said.
Gov. Jerry Brown has called for tax increases to secure transportation funding, but Republican lawmakers have vowed opposition, pointing to California’s plethora of tax impositions that they say are already saddling residents with too high a burden.
According to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, California leads the nation in highest state income tax and competes with New York for having the highest excise taxes on gasoline.