January 20, 2018
By: Paola Baker
Revenue from the recently passed California gas tax is already being used to fund or accelerate roadwork projects through the state, including several in the High Desert.
Caltrans recently unveiled a new interactive map called “Rebuilding California” that appears to show all the construction projects to improve infrastructure and roads all over the state.
Everything from pavement overlay to bridge and culvert replacement can be seen through the map — and officials are investing funds from the recently passed Senate Bill 1 to boost these projects, moving construction timelines forward by as much as a year.
SB 1, the road repair and accountability act of 2017, invests $54 billion over the next decade to fix roads, freeways and bridges in communities across California and puts more dollars toward transit and safety, according to Caltrans.
Generally, the new funding will double transportation dollars for local communities, with each community determining for themselves how they will utilize the funds, said Caltrans District 8 spokeswoman Terri Kasinga.
“So far, in District 8 alone, over $1,000,000,000 will be allocated towards revitalizing the transportation infrastructure in Riverside and San Bernardino County because of SB 1,” Kasinga said.
And the funds are already being put to work — Kasinga said more than 200 major “fix-it-first” projects statewide, collectively worth over $5 billion, should be going into construction a year earlier than planned.
Caltrans has also expedited design work on 50 additional pavement projects, worth $243 million, expected to go into construction as soon as this spring.
“While these projects are not directly funded through SB 1, they are being accelerated due to the passage of the bill, and the additional revenue we expect to receive,” Kasinga said.
The boost is already being felt in the Victor Valley, according to Caltrans, which lists several local roadworks projects here in which SB 1 funds will be invested to.
In Adelanto, future projects include renovating and replacing asphalt on Adelanto and Rancho Roads and widening Bellflower Road as it approaches Palmdale Road, which is expected to begin early this year, according to city engineer Brian Wolfe.
The additional SB 1 funding has allowed the town of Apple Valley to double their efforts to maintain their streets, with resurfacing projects planned for Cronese, Kasota, Mandan, Shoshonee, and Tao roads, town spokeswoman Gina Whiteside said.
“With the SB 1 funding, we are able to include all of these long segments in a single year,” Whiteside said. “Otherwise, they would likely have been completed over several budget cycles.”
Hesperia noted at least one project that directly benefited from the influx of SB 1 funds. The city’s 2017-2018 Annual Street Improvement Program, already in the city’s budget for the year, got a helping hand from the revenue already being collected through the tax.
City spokeswoman Rachel Molina said the program consists of removing and replacing asphalt on Main Street from Hickory to Fifth Avenue, starting in early February and expected to be completed in about 45 days. The extra SB 1 dollars let the city extend that all the way to Third Avenue as well.
“Without those funds, the project would stop at Fifth Avenue with the remainder of the project would be required to be planned for next year,” Molina said.
Yet despite the benefits of having additional revenue for local infrastructure — Wolfe called it “essential” — the bill has not come without its healthy share of detractors from the day it was introduced. Many have opposed the tax hike, locally and statewide, citing California’s already higher-than-average taxes.
“Senate Bill 1 or the so called Road Repair and Accountability Act is a joke,” Victorville city councilman Eric Negrete said. “Senate Bill 1 should be called the Diverting Road Repair Tax Revenue Again Act.”
Caltrans only listed one road improvement project for Victorville in its “Rebuilding California” map, the Village Drive Pavement Rehabilitation project from Mojave Drive to Air Expressway.
Yet city spokeswoman Sue Jones said the city was seriously considering the use of the funds at all, as they seemed to come with a steep price.
“When we applied for the funds, we didn’t understand the unfair, negative impact it could have on the City’s General Fund,” Jones said, explaining that in order for the city to receive $700,000 in SB 1 funding, it would have to spend over $500,000 from its general fund.
Caltrans notes on its website that SB 1 funds will be split equally between state and local investments, with a total of $26 billion to be spent on local streets and roads statewide. Many of their local roads funds are matching funds and grants.
“As usual, we have yet another naïve and misguided tax coming out of Sacramento that will not do what it is supposed to do,” Negrete said.
Yet the city acknowledges SB 1 could be a useful source of revenue for the $5 million project, which will rehabilitate approximately 3.5 miles of Village Drive between Mojave Drive and Air Expressway. Sidewalks, ADA-compliant access ramps, curbs, gutters and bike lanes will all be added.
“We would have undertaken this road improvement project regardless,” Jones said. “SB 1 could be a helpful supplemental resource, but we are evaluating if we want to use the funding.
Visit http://rebuildingca.ca.gov/map.html to view the “Rebuilding California” interactive map, which allows you to search for projects by location, and for more information on SB 1.