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January 20, 2010 > Forward thinking to deliver transportation in Alameda County

Forward thinking to deliver transportation in Alameda County

By Simon Wong

The Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA), the public agency responsible for delivering transportation projects and programs funded by Measure B, and locally-elected officials in Alameda County are looking ahead to 2012 for a renewal of Measure B.

Measure B was first approved in 1986 and was key in progressing transportation improvements in the County. The Alameda County Transportation Authority (ACTA) was established to administer the funds and ensure project and program delivery. A few remaining projects are still in progress.

Measure B 1986 contributed more than $1 billion to local transportation over 15 years. Capital projects and programs accounted for two-thirds and a third of expenditure, respectively. AC Transit, seniors and the disabled benefitted from ACTA-funded programs before Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.

Alameda County voters reauthorized the transportation sales tax in November 2000 with 81.5 percent support for further investment and programs. ACTIA is responsible for their delivery. Sales tax collections were effective from 2002. Measure B 2002 expires in 2022.

Of Measure B 2002 revenue, 40 percent supports 26 capital investment projects and 60 percent funds operations, maintenance and improvements for mass transit, including express buses and transit center development funds, local streets and roads improvements, bicycle and pedestrian safety and transportation for seniors and people with disabilities. This Measure delegated responsibility for local transportation investment to cities. They are most familiar with local needs. Investment in programs for seniors and people with disabilities increased from 1.5 percent to 10.5 percent.

Last October, ACTIA's board authorized staff to assess the feasibility of placing a transportation sales tax measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot, 10 years before the current Measure B expires. Two-thirds' voter-approval is required for the Measure to pass.

According to ACTIA Executive Director Christine Monsen, there are good reasons for going to the polls in 2012 even though pundits expect partial economic recovery.

Given the economic downturn and only partial recovery, Measure B transportation sales tax revenue projections over 20 years have been revised downwards from $3 billion to $2 billion. Original estimates were conservative but the downturn is more severe than anyone envisaged. Additionally, county residents are impatient and expect more from Measure B 2002.

"The State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is essentially broke. Sacramento doesn't have a great solution right now except to take away monies from different sources and programs including transportation. STIP, our main funding source before Measure B, is no longer reliable. Moreover, STIP is based on the gas tax whose purchasing power decreases daily," stated Monsen.

Alameda County has benefitted from other funding sources including the state Traffic Congestion Relief Program, Regional Measure 2, Proposition 1B Corridor Mobility Improvement Account and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) 2009. The slow economy means contract bids are as much as 40 percent below engineers' estimates.

Nevertheless, infrastructure gaps remain. The network of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV)/high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes needs completion. Gaps in the BART system to the Tri-Valley area, bus and rail expansion, trails completion, interchange improvements, freeway performance initiative implementation, transit-oriented development improvements and maintenance and operation of the smart-corridor system require funding.

When Measure B 2002 passed, sponsors promised ACTIA delivery of their projects within the first 10 years. They have done so. By 2012, 95 percent of projects will have been delivered and in use, leaving 10 years for new, locally-funded capital projects.

"However, significant investment in transportation infrastructure over the next two decades will be difficult without one-time funds, such as bonds and ARRA stimulus monies which facilitated timely delivery of Measure B 2002 projects by closing large funding gaps that appeared as sales tax revenue declined. We need to find additional, dependable revenues to leverage grant monies to continue transportation investments," Monsen explained.

ACTIA programs (60 percent of Measure B 2002), which have not seen one-time monies, face a funding crisis. Costs and the demands of an aging society and infrastructure rise whilst funding, from Measure B and other sources, falls. The number of people in Alameda County requiring paratransit services will double over the next two decades. If statutory climate change goals are to be met, people will want acceptable transportation alternatives to driving. There is a need for mobility solutions sooner rather than later.

Locally-elected officials will consider what transportation challenges their jurisdictions face, transportation needs of residents and businesses, preferred development patterns and how county-wide transportation agencies can help, how to reconcile state and regional requirements with local needs, what partnerships should be stronger, collaborative efforts, political issues and who the stakeholders are in a re-authorized Measure B.

ACTIA's expenditure plan for a third Measure B will incorporate feedback from locally-elected officials, agencies, interest groups, the public and groups that do not participate regularly in transportation planning. Outreach and polling will last from Spring 2010 to Fall 2011/early 2012.

ACTIA intends to develop a transportation vision by March, with input from Alameda County Congestion Management Agency, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Association of Bay Area Governments, Bay Area Air Quality Management District and others, ahead of future climate change legislation so the agency might raise legislators' awareness of transportation needs in Alameda County and regionally..

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