Sacramento County transportation planners have a billion-dollar decision to make next month – whether to ask county voters for a half-cent sales tax increase to help fund a series of major road and transit improvements to reduce congestion.
The tax would raise an estimated $3.6 billion over 30 years and would be spent around the county for road repairs, street expansions, new freeway interchanges and major transit projects.
The Sacramento Transportation Authority, made up of officials from around the county, has published a tentative list of projects the officials say could be built with the help of new funding.
Most of them have been on Sacramento’s wish list for years or even decades. But with state and federal transportation gas tax funds failing to keep up, it will be hard for the county to get the work done unless it comes up with local funds, said agency chair Kerri Howell, a Folsom City Council member.
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“The question has been how to come up with additional funding to do the things we need to do,” Howell said. “This has been a two-year process.”
The list includes seven freeway interchanges, light rail to the airport, a downtown streetcar, widening of the Capital City Freeway and an east-county beltway.
Sacramento is not the only local county considering a November transportation funding ballot measure. Placer County transportation leaders say they also are seriously considering placing a half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot.
“Traffic is getting worse and worse, pavement is getting worse, and state and federal funds are not going to fix it for us,” said Celia McAdam, head of the Placer County Transportation Planning Network. Of particular concern for Placer, she said, is the congested connection between Interstate 80 and Highway 65.
Yolo County officials are exploring the possibility of some form of sales tax increase request as well. “We have significant unfunded road rehab and maintenance needs,” Yolo’s government affairs specialist Alexander Tengolics said. “We have to look at ourselves and ask, are we doing everything we can (locally)?”
The city of Placerville also is looking at placing a 10-year combined sewer, water and road repair measure on the November ballot. City Manager Cleve Morris said Placerville has an $18 million street repair backlog.
Sacramento County’s transportation project proposals are sweeping. The initial project list, published last week, includes maintenance and repair money, as well as additional project construction funds, for every city in the county, as well as for unincorporated areas. Cities would be given the leeway to decide how to spend much of their allocation.
Folsom has indicated it wants to use much of its money for Highway 50 freeway interchanges at Empire Ranch Road, Oak Avenue Parkway and a reworking of the Scott Road interchange, as well as a bike overcrossing of Folsom Boulevard.
The city of Sacramento wants to use some of its funds for a downtown streetcar, for expansion of the downtown multiuse train center in the railyard, and for a new bridge to carry cars, light rail, bikes and pedestrians over the American River between South Natomas and downtown.
Elk Grove would use some of its funds for an intermodal train station at Grant Line Road next to Highway 99, for an interchange at Whitelock Parkway and Highway 99, and for widening Kammerer Road.
Sacramento County officials have a long list of roads they would like to expand, including Antelope Road, Bradshaw Road, Elkhorn Boulevard, Elverta Road, Greenback Lane and Jackson Highway. They also have a long list of roads to rehabilitate, including Arden Way, Auburn Boulevard, El Camino Avenue, Fair Oaks Boulevard, Florin Road and Folsom Boulevard. Much of that work would include making corridors safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The preliminary Sacramento Transportation Authority list includes substantial funds for larger “regional” projects, some of them already started but in need of finishing funds. Others sit on the shelf for lack of money:
▪ Further work on the Capital SouthEast Connector road, which will eventually run for 33 miles mainly on the White Rock and Grant Line roads alignments, offering a commute alternative to Highway 50.
▪ Extension of the Regional Transit light rail Green Line from downtown through Natomas to Sacramento International Airport.
▪ Extension of the Regional Transit light rail Blue Line south from its current terminus at Cosumnes River College to the proposed Elk Grove transit center at Grant Line Road and Highway 99.
▪ Adding a second light rail Gold Line track between the Sunrise Boulevard station and old town Folsom, allowing trains to run at 15-minute intervals.
▪ Expansion of the county’s senior and disabled transit service network.
Perhaps the most dramatic project on the list would be a major fix on the Capital City Freeway over the American River, where traffic comes to a standstill daily.
Sacramento city leaders and Caltrans have been formulating a $700 million plan to widen the freeway from midtown to its junction with Interstate 80 with bus and carpool lanes, as well as adding bike and pedestrian access to the river bridge and infrastructure technology to speed movement. The project would include widening the American River Bridge.
The Sacramento Transportation Authority board will discuss the project list at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Sacramento County board chamber. Howell said the list likely will change some in the next few weeks as community members weigh in on transportation needs.
The authority board is scheduled to vote April 14 on whether to formally launch the process that would lead to a November ballot measure. That decision will be based in part on voter polling underway this week. Board members have said they want assurances that voters are in the mood to tax themselves this year.
The law requires that two-thirds of voters agree in order for the tax increase to occur. Polling last year showed that most potential voters support the measure in concept but that reaching the 67 percent approval threshold could be tough.
Now, as more people hit the road post-recession, city and county leaders say increased congestion could prompt more voters to agree to pay for relief. If approved, the tax increase is planned to be in place from 2017 to 2047.
The local counties still will rely on the state and federal government for matching funds on many of the larger projects. But, said Howell, Sacramento will not be able to compete successfully for federal grants if it doesn’t have local money already on the table.
Sacramento County already is among 19 “self-help” counties in the state that have passed transportation sales tax measures to help them supplement state and federal funds. Sacramento’s existing half-cent transportation sales tax was passed by voters in 2004. It went into effect in 2009 and will be in place until 2039. The potential new tax would overlap the existing tax for a number of years.
The Sacramento County sales tax rate is 8 percent. The rate in the city of Sacramento is 8.5 percent. Placer County’s rate is 7.5. Yolo’s is 7.5; Davis is 8.5.
To learn more
To see the Sacramento Transportation Authority agenda and transportation project list, go to www.sacta.org/pdf/agendas/2016/033016/033016-AGP.pdf.