Placer County roads and highways are increasingly congested and local leaders say they don’t have enough money to provide traffic relief. After years of debate, they are asking voters on Nov. 8 to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund an estimated $1.6 billion of transportation improvements over the next 30 years.
Measure M, the Keep Placer Moving initiative, will need a two-thirds yes vote to pass. It’s a tough hurdle in a largely Republican county where voters are known to be fiscally conservative. But congestion problems have led some low-tax advocates to offer support for the measure.
The tax is similar to transportation sales tax measures on the ballot in 14 California counties, including neighboring Sacramento. County officials say they are asking voters for the tax because the state and federal governments have failed to provide adequate funds for roads, and there appears to be no movement at either state or federal levels to come up with a reliable, long-term revenue source.
County Supervisor Kirk Uhler is a fiscal conservative who balked at the tax plan for several years when it was being discussed by officials at the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency. This spring, however, he joined the rest of the PCTPA board, the last board member to support the measure.
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“We just don’t have an alternative. If I want Placer County to be a viable place to do business in the future, I am just going to have to bite the bullet,” Uhler said. “What government is there for, fundamentally, is to provide services that productive people need to be productive. A working transportation infrastructure is a key ingredient.”
Former Auburn Mayor Kevin Hanley opposes Measure M. He agrees with Uhler that the state and federal governments are not providing adequate funding, and noted residents of his city have said in a survey that fixing roads is a top priority.
But he argues that Measure M will not improve traffic congestion long-term as long as local leaders in Placer continue their historical willingness to approve large subdivisions without adequate road funding. Instead, cities should reshuffle their own general fund priorities and put more of that money into improving and expanding roads, he said.
“The decision by local governments to approve homes and businesses that exceed the capacity of those highways is the main cause for traffic congestion,” Hanley said. “If Measure M is approved without reform ... congestion will not be relieved.”
The county and cities currently charge a variety of traffic impact fees on new developments, and use that money to pay for new roads. But that money has proved to be insufficient to keep up with transportation needs, PCTPA officials say.
The PCTPA board, which sponsored the measure, includes county Supervisors Uhler and Jim Holmes, as well as council members from Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln, Loomis, Auburn, Colfax and a representative from the Tahoe area.
The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this year to put the measure on the ballot.
The measure’s No. 1 focus is on expanding and reconfiguring the Interstate 80-Highway 65 interchange.
Other funds would go to widen Baseline Road, Highway 65 and Interstate 80, road maintenance and pothole work, rural road repair and Highway 49 upgrades, including signal synchronization.
Some would be used for sidewalks, bike lanes and turn lanes for safety, and some for senior and disabled mobility services.
Some funding would assist a regional effort to add a rail track that would allow up to 10 Capitol Corridor trains to run daily round trips between south Placer and downtown Sacramento. Currently, passengers trains make only one trip and must share tracks with freight trains.
Funds from the higher sales tax would be combined with expected developer fees to build a planned Placer Parkway, which would branch off from Highway 65 at Whitney Ranch Parkway, just north of Rocklin and south of Lincoln, and would link up with Highway 99 at Sankey Road.
Advocates say the funds would be used as leverage to help the county compete for state and federal transportation grants.
The county elections office online database shows no formal committee opposing the measure.
Proponents have registered more than $600,000 in contributions from a variety of sources, including construction companies, labor unions, developers, home builders and contractors.
The Placer Vineyards Development Group LLC donated $40,000. Placer Vineyards is a planned community of 14,000 housing units in southwest Placer County, adjacent to Roseville. The Operating Engineers Local Union No . 3 and the Union Pacific Railroad Co. each gave $25,000. The engineers union represents workers who operate large construction equipment. The UP would benefit from Measure M because the proposed third commuter rail line would reduce conflicts between passenger and freight trains in Placer and Sacramento counties.