Riverside County ranks as the third fastest growing county in the United States, adding more than 100 people a day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s great news for economic development, but not-so-good when it comes to maintaining an already over-burdened transportation network.
Which brings us to Senate Bill 1 – a critical funding measure that has been under attack ever since its approval by the Legislature a year ago April.
This November, voters are being asked to repeal SB1 and deny the state $5 billion a year to restore our highway and local road systems after decades of deferred maintenance. That’s real money and it’s badly needed for the transportation network.
Here and across the state, approval of Proposition 6 would exacerbate a funding shortfall that compounds every year and has severely compromised the safety and efficiency of our roads and highways. According to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), Riverside County alone is projected to receive about $83 million during the current fiscal year as a result of the increase in state fuel taxes and other fees that are part of SB1. Of that, more than $66 million would fund improvements to local streets and roads, with the balance going to transit projects.
Meanwhile, the six counties that comprise SCAG are projected to receive more than $731 million from SB1 during the current fiscal year, including $532 million for transportation — road and highway improvements.
Critics will say there has to be better way than increasing the state gas tax. The reality is that we long ago exhausted the traditional methods for funding our transportation system, which is why California now faces a shortfall of $59 billion for state highway improvements and $78 billion to get our local roads up to speed.
And while an increase in the state gas tax might seem a bitter pill, keep in mind that the federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993. That, along with inflation and improved vehicle fuel efficiency, further limits the amount of dollars available for transportation projects.
Complicating matters even more in California are burdensome environmental requirements that add years to amount of time needed to even begin a major capital project.
We don’t have years to waste. And we certainly don’t have the billions of additional dollars those project delays end up costing.
As it is, Riverside County will need more than $5 billion over the next decade to meet its growing street maintenance needs, according to the California Statewide Local Streets and Roads Needs Assessment. For the SCAG region as a whole, that number climbs to $36.5 billion.
If allowed to remain intact, SB1 wouldn’t eliminate that financial burden, but certainly would take a sizable bite out of it. In addition to funding street and road improvements at the local level, SB1 helps address state highway system needs, regional transit opportunities and ways to better our goods movement network. It also creates a Local Partnership Program, which rewards local jurisdictions that have passed their own transportation funding measures.
Proposition 6 seeks to eliminate all of that.
Riverside County and the Coachella Valley deserve a safe and efficient transportation network. The funding provided under SB1 helps ensure that.