The Facts About Transportation Funding and Why We Need More Revenue

Jeffrey Spencer
Executive Director of the Sacramento Transportation Authority

Efforts at converting California vehicles to sustainable fuel sources are successful in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing fuel efficiency. However, one consequence of reduced fuel consumption and an increase in the number of electric vehicles is lower long-term fuel excise tax revenues. A large portion of transportation funding in California is collected at the pump and it is the state’s primary source of funding for the maintenance and repair of transportation infrastructure. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993.

As a result, many counties throughout the state do not have enough funding to keep up with “fix-it-first” projects such as filling potholes or to invest in critical congestion relief projects. The California Transportation Commission reports that most counties have an average pavement rating of “at risk” or “poor” and in Sacramento Countythere are 11,285 miles that need to be repaved. According to the 2016 California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment, this will cost $2.9 billion over ten years.

Earlier this year, a report from TRIP found that 42 percent of the major roads in the Sacramento region are in poor condition. Another TRIP report released in August found that “driving on deficient roads costs each Sacramento area driver $2,270 per year in the form of extra vehicle operating costs as a result of driving on roads in need of repair, lost time and fuel due to congestion-related delays.”

As our roads continue to deteriorate so does the level of funding. During the recession, state and federal transportation funding levels were significantly reduced. In fact, real transportation spending growth is 6 points below overall spending since the pre-recession peak and 19 points under overall spending post-recession. As a result, now there is a backlog of more than $1 billion in Sacramento County alone for system maintenance and rehabilitation projects.

The economics of investing in infrastructure is simple: the Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefits of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.

The need for additional transportation funding is not unique to Sacramento and that’s why several counties throughout the state – including Sacramento – have placed transportation sales tax measures on the November ballot to secure a dedicated local funding source for transportation improvement projects. This local approach is especially important because a comprehensive transportation funding package failed to emerge successfully at the end of the state’s legislative session.

Sacramento is one of many self-help counties throughout the state that already has a local transportation sales tax in place. But with federal and state funding historically being insufficient to meet all of California’s mobility needs the existing local sales tax revenue is not enough to keep up with current and future demands in Sacramento County. Local sales tax dollars provide jurisdictions the opportunity to provide safe and efficient modes of transportation for all users. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity – for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders – who all deserve to have reliable and safe travel options.

Jeffrey Spencer is the Executive Director of the Sacramento Transportation Authority.

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