More from the series
The California Influencers Series
California Influencers this week answered this question: What do you think are the most important steps to take to improve California’s transportation challenges? Would Proposition 6 help or hurt in those efforts? Here are their answers:
Madeleine Brand – Host, KCRW Radio Los Angeles
Here in L.A., the obvious challenge is traffic. There are just too many cars on the road. We’re building rail lines, but building the system to New York-style accessibility will take decades. I think committing to more and faster bus routes could go a long way to easing congestion. Buses need to have their own dedicated lanes and promise faster commutes than cars. And we could take a page from Phoenix and use autonomous shuttles to address the first mile/last mile problem.
Daniel Zingale – Senior Vice President, California Endowment
It’s hard to think of anything more iconically California than the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s an awe-inspiring and monumental example of one of the greatest transportation systems in the world. Maintaining that distinction today demands the same kind of bold inspiration that gave rise to the Golden Gate in the 1930s. Unfortunately, our plan to meet that demand is stuck in traffic even as California’s growth is in the fast lane. There’s no reason for inertia. There are good ideas out there for calming traffic and making streets safer, such as making it easier to ride and share a bike, public transportation connecting lower income residents to affordable housing and livable wage jobs, transitioning to low carbon vehicles and simply making walking easier. It will take investments to create the transportation system needed for a thriving economy and high quality of life for all Californians. For those of us who have enjoyed the convenience and splendor of driving across the Golden Gate, it’s time to pay it forward.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd – President, Western States Petroleum Association
California’s transportation infrastructure underpins our economy, moving trillions of dollars of goods, supporting one-third of the state’s economy and millions of jobs. Most families and small businesses rely on petroleum fuels for their day-to-day transportation needs and depend on a reliable, affordable fuel supply. A wide array of policies and regulations affect petroleum-based fuels, some intending to reduce demand while others may impact the supply. The oil and gas industry supports reasonable transportation fuel policies that clean the air and improve quality of life, but we also must consider how these policies affect consumers, particularly working class and disadvantaged families disproportionately impacted by higher fuel costs and reduced availability. USC law professor George Lefcoe said in a recent Forbes article, “Automobiles are the survival mechanism for low-income people. If you try to increase the cost of automobiles, you hurt low-income people.” Future policy directives should first ensure that the cost and availability of transportation fuels used by the vast of majority of Californians are not put at risk. Such widely impactful considerations must bring to the table a wide range of experts and interests, including the oil and gas industry, to ensure worthwhile, fair and equitable outcomes.
Kathryn Phillips – Director, Sierra Club California
Transportation is one of the single largest sources of air and climate pollution. We can’t have clean air until we remove pollution from the transportation sector. Also, polling has shown that one of the things that bothers Californians the most about the state is traffic congestion. Fortunately, we are in position to solve both pollution and congestion simultaneously. Huge advances in electric vehicles plus new technologies that tailor public transit to riders’ needs promise a future with more choices for clean, safe and comfortable shared transportation. Proposition 6 would cut transit funding that’s needed to deliver these choices.
Jon Coupal – President, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
Step 1: Abandoned the internationally ridiculed High Speed Rail project. It is no longer the project that the voters were promised and California could use the cap and trade revenues that are keeping HSR on life support for transportation projects that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as congestion relief projects. Step 2: Implement significant reforms in the way we fund and construct projects. This would include expanded use of contracting out, public private partnerships, CEQA reforms and giving local governments more authority. Proposition 6 would help all of the above by incentivizing the state to actually be more efficient in using the substantial funds already generated by the gas tax and VLF revenue. Moreover, by requiring a vote of the people for future transportation tax hikes this will encourage a broad based public discussion about California’s transportation policies.
Janet Napolitano – President, University of California
Transportation in California is a mess and the lack of transportation infrastructure, like the shortage of affordable housing, is a real threat to California’s economic future. Steps should be taken to make mass transit easier and more dependable. The Bay Area, for example, should be under one regional transit authority. Nonetheless, the revenues to be collected by the legislatively-approved gas tax increase, which Prop. 6 would repeal, are necessary to fund road maintenance, repair projects, and other transit programs. While no one likes paying taxes, California’s roads are ranked among the worst in the nation. Without this dedicated revenue the legislature will be forced to divert funds from the general fund to support transportation, putting at risk funding for other programs such as higher education. Speaking for myself, I would urge a “No” vote on Proposition 6.
Harmeet Dhillon – Republican National Committee member and partner, Dhillon Law Group
California needs to upgrade its crumbling infrastructure using general purpose funds rather than overtaxing citizens more with the most regressive possible tax, a gasoline tax that hurts the hardest-hit Californians. We should also immediately cease all efforts on the badly designed, outmoded, and over-budget “bullet train” fantasy of Governor Brown, and repurpose any existing budgeted funds to infrastructure repair and upgrades. California should emphasize market-based solutions to transportation challenges and must keep in mind that our punitive regulatory state makes housing near top employment centers unaffordable, such that commuting is increasingly important and critical to quality of life in California. This will continue to be the case until California encourages reasonable housing construction and provides incentives for investors to help participate in upgrading both our housing and our transportation bases in California.
Steve Westly – Former California State Controller & Founder of the Westly Group
To begin reinvesting in a 21st Century infrastructure to ease the flow of goods and services and reduce commute times. The gas tax is long overdue. We need to vote no on Prop 6.
Tom Campbell – Professor of Law and Professor of Economics, Chapman University
The gas tax was adopted in a fashion sadly typical of single-party rule in California. Before the Democrats took two-thirds control of both houses of the Legislature, they would have had to negotiate with the minority party members to adopt any approach to transportation that included new taxes. Part of any such comprehensive approach would have been an unraveling of the Train to Nowhere: Gov. Brown’s over-budget, behind-time project that will not be receiving any more federal money. Other priorities would have been considered as well, and a package of cuts in spending elsewhere to fund expanded freeways and needed repairs would have been considered. Virtually unchecked, however, the majority party was able to push through their preferred approach to public policy: cut nothing, and when critical needs arise (like transportation or housing) just increase taxes. (The Democrats lost one vote in the Senate, but were able to pick up one Republican state senator who voted in favor, who frankly admitted, “At the end of the day I asked for certain things and they delivered them, so I needed to vote for it.”)
Barbara Boxer – United States Senator (1993-2017)
I was in public office for 40 years and one of the issues that always seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list was transportation.
There were complaints about the quality of the roads and complaints about the lack of public transit . Then when people learned that so many bridges were deficient that also became a rallying cry.
Moving from place to place is more than a convenience: it’s a necessity. And we know that stalling in traffic adds to pollution which hurts our lungs and exacerbates the problems of climate change.
The good news is technology is at our fingertips. We can build better and cleaner buses, ferries, rail, and safe roads and bridges. And it is clear that the states that have the most resources and the best transportation plan will get major matching funds from the federal government highway trust fund.
I know that, because I was privileged to head the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for many years and we had strong support for standing behind states with predictable funding. California gets billions of dollars a year...at least until the highway trust fund legislation I shepherded through the Congress, expires in three years. And in addition, at the urging of California, I was able to greatly expand a program called TIFFIA which really helps those counties in our state who qualify for zero interest loans for major projects.
To sum it up, the more California makes transportation a priority – highways, bridges and public transit, the more funding will be available from the federal government. That is why I hope we will not repeal any targeted funding for transportation in our great state.
I say no to any slow down in our efforts to add to our quality-of-life. Another key point: Lessening our resources will mean that the millions of jobs that are associated with construction will be lost.
At a time when partisanship is so rampant I believe this is an issue that can and should unite all of us.
Karen Skelton – Founder and President, Skelton Strategies
We are in the beginning stages of an electric transportation revolution essential to preserving the planet.
While the world’s cars are going electric, it is not fast enough. The urgency of this moment in history requires a more rapid transition to electric vehicles.
Transportation accounts for 41 percent of our state’s greenhouse gas emissions, producing millions of tons of carbon pollution each year. Pollution from cars and trucks poses a critical threat to our health, and the planet’s sustainability.
Modernizing transportation is essential if we are to reverse climate change. Beyond our health, it is also a smart business move to take advantage of the growing trillion-dollar global market for electric vehicles. Electrifying transportation is a cornerstone of modern living and is fundamental to a profitable, sustainable economy.
Christine Robertson – Vice President of Community Engagement and Advocacy, Visit SLO CAL
Ten years ago, the state passed SB 375, a paradigm-shifting piece of legislation that forced local and state policymakers to consider the intersection of both housing and transportation policy. It was obvious then, as it is now, that these interconnected issues cannot be addressed in isolation. The bargain that brought people together across the aisle was a CEQA streamlining provision for residential infill to make it cheaper and faster to build housing where transportation was most accessible. I suggest that it is time to update SB 375 with a more holistic paradigm. It is time to add jobs and economic activity to this larger equation.
California’s urban centers rank among the most expensive locations to build new freeways and additional housing, yet these impacted regions are the focus of significant infrastructure investment because this is where most of the head-of-household jobs are concentrated. An updated and more ambitious version of SB 375 would craft state policies that link transportation, housing, and jobs in a larger rubric to incentivize new planned communities in growth-ready areas of the state where environmental impacts are low and opportunities for social and economic prosperity are high.
Maria Salinas, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Transportation infrastructure needs to be treated as an evergreen priority. For too long, significant investments have been reactionary as emergencies occur- a bridge collapses, a highway in dangerous disrepair. Once built, resources need to be continually allocated for maintenance and not subjected to political borrowing for other priorities. Using transportation dollars for other purposes in the past has created deep distrust in voters towards Sacramento. By eliminating a large, reliable source of funding for our deteriorating infrastructure, Proposition 6 threatens to do lasting damage to a state whose economy depends on the the movement of people and goods.
David Townsend – Founder, TCT Public Affairs
There is no disagreement that our roads, highways and transit systems are in great need of repair and in some cases expansion. State gasoline taxes and local sales taxes dedicated to transportation are absolutely essential. Unfortunately, this is not enough. Our expanding population and long delayed capital improvements require even more funding to catch up and restore our transportation infrastructure to what it was in our parents and grandparents time. It may require state GO bonds to add the necessary funding to the mix. If the Republican cynical effort to kill the gas tax to increase Republican voter turnout succeeds, they will pay the price at the polls for years to come.
Mike Madrid – Principal, Grassroots Lab
Prioritize transportation investment and build faith with the voters by ensuring money designated for transportation is actually spent on transportation. The gas tax will help with transportation improvements, but it’s not needed if state government would prioritize those improvements in our spending.
Lara Bergthold – Principal Partner, RALLY Communications
I live in Los Angeles within five miles of my son’s school and my workplace. I’m lucky. But the vast majority of Californians don’t live near work, and our ability to get to and from work, school, or even go out for dinner is heavily impacted by traffic. Here in Los Angeles we’ve seen some novel ideas floated to improve transportation, and I’d like them to go beyond idea to pilot phases. Congestion pricing, in which people are incentivized to wait to do their small errands outside of high traffic times, first/last mile solutions that improve people’s ability to use public transportation (DARE I SAY IT, I’m even for electric scooters with the right guardrails), affordable housing built near public transportation hubs to reduce personal commutes. Proposition 6 would hurt a lot of those efforts so I’ll be voting no on Proposition 6 in November.
Proposition 6 is mission critical to funding the infrastructure investments California has lagged for decades. Our roads and bridges are literally crumbling and creating public safety concerns.
Aziza Hasan – Executive Director, New Ground Muslim-Jewish Partnership
California has 1,700 bridges identified as “structurally deficient” by the Department of Transportation. With bridges crumbling across a state that is infamously susceptible to earthquakes, it is essential that every affected county in California receive funds for transportation infrastructure repair. Proposition 6 would end this annual investment of $5.4 billion in California’s transportation systems. While some have complained about how the tax affects them, the cost of allowing those bridges to fall will be much higher, and we ought to engage in effective dialogue and action on this issue before we no longer have that luxury. As citizens of California, we are all dependent upon one another, and we all depend upon bridges to transport us safely from one part of state to the other, and across our cities – Jewish, Muslim and other traditions (religious and secular humanists) teach that it is our responsibility to collectively ensure the safety of our infrastructure for the well-being of all.
Chad Peace – Founder/President, IVC Media and Founding Board Member, National Association of Non-Partisan Reformers
Anytime we legislate on complex issues from the ballot box we run the risk of politicizing public policy with solutions that are dictated by a simplified debate. That often ends poorly. It is most important that we recognize the intertwined nature of transportation policy with housing policy, wealth inequality, and a myriad of other issues including climate change and government accountability. In the case of Proposition 6, the legislature passed transportation policy with an overwhelming majority that put major public projects into action. Agree or disagree with the policy behind using the gas tax (where all these issues including the rationale for using these funds for both highways and mass transit projects were theoretically considered), the consequences of cutting those projects now through referendum would result in a substantial financial loss, unfinished infrastructure projects, and no solution at all to real transportation problems.
Catherine Lew – Principal and Co-Founder, Lew Edwards Group
Tired of scraped wheel rims and bad car suspensions? Join the club. California’s roads are some of the worst in the country – driving on them already costs Golden State residents over $800 annually, and transportation is also the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. 1) To address these challenges, we must expand how we view our mobility and reduce reliance on cars. Where possible, employers should encourage telecommuting. 2) City planners should continue efforts to make all of our communities more walkable and bike friendly. 3) We must properly invest in and use our public transit systems and finally and most importantly: 4) We should properly maintain and repair our aging infrastructure and FIX those potholes and roads! Unless we do so, our quality of life and safety will continue to be affected. Passing Prop. 6 eliminates over $50 Billion in essential funding that would address these challenges, and that is why California’s Firefighters, Highway Patrol officers, and elected officials from both parties are voting NO. Proposition 6 doesn’t help the problem, it makes it worse.
Antonia Hernandez – President and CEO, California Community Foundation
Our transportation issues are varied and complex, not one action will solve the problem. We need to continue with the tax increase to maintain and improve our roads, freeways, bridges and increase accessible public transportation. These tax dollars are restricted and can only be used for transportation needs.
Corey Matthews – Vice President, LeadersUp
Transportation spans the economic, political and social realities of everyday people. For starters, the most cited issue for job separation is a lack of consistent and affordable transportation. But beyond getting to and from work, transportation is about access to resources, night life, shopping, the arts and everything that shapes someone’s quality of life in California. Proposition 6 would suddenly halt the major transportation spending, and compromise the promises of projects that have already begun since the passage of the Road Repair and Accountability Act from last year. It would severely impact people’s abilities to get and keep the types of jobs that provide livable wages and will lead to adverse effects on consumer spending, and eventually the health of our economy. Good transportation provides people with options to expand the prospects of maintaining quality jobs and without it we run the risk of further exacerbating the wage inequities that are already pronounced in metropolitan areas. Ultimately, we have to adopt a regional purview of transportation and continue to invest in it in order to safeguard thriving regional economies and promote balanced lifestyles for Californians living in all parts of the state.
Ashley Swearengin – President and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to fixing our state’s transportation challenges. It is politically convenient to say that all we need is either an increase in revenue or improved efficiencies to resolve our huge infrastructure deficits. Single interest groups that make such either/or arguments are misleading the public. California’s transportation system is fundamentally broken. Proposition 6 would make things even worse – if we are serious about handing down a transportation system that has a chance of meeting the next generation’s needs, we are going to need more revenue to make up for decades of deferred maintenance, population growth. But, that alone won’t solve the problem. The state also needs aggressive reform to speed up project delivery, public-private partnerships to unlock sources of private capital, and, yes, improved efficiencies in transportation systems at both local and state agencies. Unfortunately, the voices that are loudest in support of raising more revenue are often silent when it comes to also pushing for badly needed reforms. That is a big disservice to future generations of Californians.
Jessica Levinson – Professor of Law, Loyola Law School
Gas tax funds are needed to repair California’s crumbling infrastructure. Hence passing Proposition 6 and repealing the gas tax would merely add to California’s transportation problems. Proposition 6 is another example of a group being unhappy with the legislature process and trying to take their cause directly to the voters. Hopefully the voters will understand the importance funds needed to maintain and repair California’s roads, bridges and highways.
Bonnie Castillo – Executive Director, California Nurses Association
Transportation should not be isolated from other critical issues, including climate change, healthcare, jobs, and income inequality.
Emissions from cars and trucks are a major source of California’s greenhouse gas emissions that fuel the climate crisis, as well as air pollution, a key factor in rising asthma rates and other pulmonary health problems.
We should encourage reduced dependence on cars, but without restricting, in particular, the ability of low and moderate-income Californians to get to work at a time when income inequality continues to skyrocket. That means prioritizing expansion of affordable public transportation alternatives as well as initiatives, such as Prop. 10, to bring down housing costs so that workers can live closer to where they work.
Infrastructure repair and construction is an important source of good paying jobs, but it’s worth emphasizing that does not just mean more highways and roads; it also means building more public transit and fixing crumbling schools, dams, bridges, and water and sewer systems.
Carl Guardino – President and CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group
California’s 50,000 miles of state highways and 15,000 bridges are literally crumbling. It is more than an inconvenience and added expense to operating our cars, it is a serious danger to leave 50-60 year old bridges in their current condition. Defeating Proposition 6 should be a priority for anyone concerned about California’s transportation systems. Stripping these transportation funds would immediately impact more than 6,000 road safety, transit and traffic relief projects currently underway, and return our State to a U-Turn to Yesterday without the funding necessary to tackle traffic and road repairs.
Allan Zaremberg – President and CEO, California Chamber of Commerce
The most important step to take to prevent further deterioration of California’s transportation network is to defeat Proposition 6, because the initiative will stop critical transportation projects and jeopardize the safety of our bridges and roads. Prop. 6 eliminates $5 billion annually in existing funds dedicated to fixing roads, bridges and infrastructure. Proposition 6 will stop projects currently underway throughout California to upgrade bridges and overpasses to meet earthquake safety standards and to improve the safety of our roads. The Federal Highway Administration has determined that California has 1,600 structurally deficient bridges throughout the state, and 52 of our 58 counties have roads that are in poor or at-risk condition. The state has a backlog of more than $131 billion to bring our infrastructure into an acceptable condition. Nothing would set back our efforts to improve public safety and mobility more than passage Proposition 6. That’s why a broad-based coalition of law enforcement, local government and business oppose it.
Cesar Diaz – Political and Legislative Director, State Building and Construction Trades Council
California faces a serious threat from the lack of investment in our transportation system. As we deal with the impacts of population growth and climate change it is imperative that our state move people and goods safely and efficiently. Investing in light rail and high speed rail, while also maintaining our roads and bridges, will create good jobs and drive economic development in every region of California. Proposition 6 would have a devastating impact on our state’s economy. First, it would place at risk millions of people and businesses who use our streets, roads and bridges daily by eliminating funding for maintenance and operations that improve safety and reduce congestion. Second, by removing dedicated transportation revenue, it would place those projects in competition with other basic needs like education and healthcare resulting in the underfunding of both. Third, it would kill good jobs and apprenticeship opportunities across the state including in areas that are suffering from high unemployment and poverty. Proposition 6 represents everything that is wrong with partisan politics today as it was placed on the ballot without any regard to the long-term harm it will cause to our economy and the well-being of all Californians
Maria Mejia – Los Angeles Director, Gen Next
To alleviate our transportation challenges, Californians must focus on investing in infrastructure across the state. We must pursue transportation technologies and be open-minded about integrating innovative modes of transportation within the statewide network. Yes, the gas tax has provided local agencies with an infusion of funds for critical street and road improvements projects, and while it will continue to provide much needed relief and even result in job creation in certain communities, we would be negligent to sell it to voters as a “fix-all” solution to our transportation challenges. After all, SB 1is a tax that disproportionally hurts California’s working poor. For rural farmers living in the California central valley, for example, who are already living on minimal wages and forced to drive much further distances than the urban middle class, the implementation of the new gas tax is the equivalent of forcing them to decide whether they are going to put gas in their car that day or feed their families. Improving California’s transportation system is not just about streets and roads. It is about empowering every Californian towards economic independence by building a system that is accessible and improves mobility for all.
Timothy White – Chancellor, California State University
“California has billions of dollars in infrastructure needs, both physical infrastructure and human capital. State leaders were able to identify a dedicated funding stream to address road and highway infrastructure, ensuring that the state general fund would be available to meet other priorities, including funding for higher education. Investment in our infrastructure is critical to the state’s future, and California’s citizens expect our state leaders to determine the best way to balance and fund these priorities.”
Jim Boren – Executive Director, Fresno State’s Institute for Media and Public Trust
Proposition 6 is not good public policy, and would hurt the state’s economy by limiting improvements in California’s transportation infrastructure. The state must invest in all forms of transportation to take the pressure off our freeways and roadways. Proposition 6 takes us backward when we should be looking forward to a 21st century transportation plan that doesn’t rely on one person in a single car all day long.
Kim Yamasaki – Executive Director, Center for Asians United for Self-Empowerment
Proposition 6 would create unnecessary red tape for funding road and highway repairs and public transportation programs. SB1, The Road Repair and Accountability Act was already passed last year and this is just another party politics ploy to secure more Republican seats in the Orange County. This proposition takes us back in time and would cause us to lose out on billions of dollars of funding that would go towards creating a more reliable and safe transportation infrastructure.
Linda Ackerman – President, Marian Bergeson Excellence in Public Service Series
One of the most important steps that California can take is reforming CEQA. All transportation projects whether they are repairs, improvements or major expansions of our transportation infrastructure requires this cumbersome, drawn out regulatory process. However, if you want to build a football stadium you can be given an exemption! This could bee the time to take the steps needed to restructure how California addresses and pays for its system of freeways and highways, a system that was planned years ago but never completed. It was also infrastructure that was paid for out of the General Fund. Proposition 6 will provide immediate financial relief to the California citizens who need it the most, our hard working middle to low income workers. Proposition 6 is not designed to specifically improve California’s transportation challenges, it addresses an ever increasing belief within our legislature that more taxes will solve our problems. This has never proven to be the case. The voters know that their previous gas taxes were spent for other state needs. There does not appear to be any real assurance that this raid on their gas tax dollars will not occur once again.
Jim Wunderman – President and CEO, Bay Area Council
The most immediate step we can take to improve California’s transportation system is to defeat Proposition 6 on the November ballot. This misguided and short-sighted measure would overturn SB 1 (Beall) and eliminate $5.2 billion in annual funding over the next 10 years to fix our badly deteriorated roads, highways and bridges, enhance aging and overburdened transit systems and make numerous other bicycle, pedestrian and safety improvements. Funding alone is not the answer. We also must find creative and innovative ways to squeeze more efficiency and capacity out of our existing system using new technologies that promote and enable convenient carpooling and ridesharing. Better managing demand on roads, highways and transit is the cheapest way to address traffic, reduce strain on our transportation system and even help meet California’s aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets. Improving project delivery of major transportation projects must also be a high priority. We waste untold sums and time on our biggest and most meaningful projects. Expanding our use of public private partnerships to finance, build and operate our transportation infrastructure also holds great promise. California also should double down on investing in modern, new rail systems that can link growing metropolitan areas and also serve local commuters. California’s transportation challenges are immense and demand a multi-prong attack.
Kim Belshé – Executive Director, First 5 LA
Californians currently has a transportation system that is bad for our health, bad for our environment, and robs families of quality time together. We often hear congestion stymies work productivity, but we rarely hear about its effects on the family. As many working families move outside of cities to seek affordable housing, they now face hours in traffic and congestion. Once these commuters reach the city, they drive on streets that divide communities and create safety issues for residents. While we have made great strides decarbonizing the electricity grid, cars account for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and remain a serious challenge in reaching our climate goals. Just as California has focused on renewable energy to reduce the need for fossil fuels and power plants, we must rethink our transportation system to work better for children, families, and communities by reducing – and where possible, eliminating – commutes. This means looking at the connections to housing and jobs and rethinking our streets to be communal spaces where families can accomplish their daily routines without spending hours in soul crushing traffic. The effects of our transportation system on individuals, their families, and children should be a top concern of leaders and lawmakers.
For background, we also wanted to share…
In L.A. County, 71,000 commuters trek more than 150 miles every day from the Antelope Valley to and from work in the greater Los Angeles Area. That’s akin to an entire city moving daily. More than 200 people are killed every year moving around the City of L.A., and traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for children.
Ron George – California Supreme Court Chief Justice (1996-2011)
It is said that there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” Well, there also is no such thing as getting away with not spending tax dollars to meet California’s growing need for bridges and roads that are safe for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, that are free of potholes, and that are designed to reduce traffic congestion. Many persons complain about these conditions but do not feel they should have to do their part in paying to remedy them. The fatal consequences of neglecting bridges that are unsafe due to inadequate maintenance, wear and use, or improper construction and design, are well known. Just last month, the collapse of the Ponte Morani Motorway Bridge in Genoa, Italy, due to improper maintenance and construction defects, caused the deaths of 43 persons. Similar disasters have occurred in the United States: for example, the 2007 rush-hour collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota, due to improper maintenance and construction defects, responsible for 13 persons being killed and 145 injured; the collapse of one segment of the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, resulting in one fatality, accompanied by the destruction of the nearby Cypress Street Viaduct on Interstate 880, causing 42 fatalities; and the 1967 rush-hour collapse of the Silver Bridge on U.S. Route 35 linking Ohio and West Virginia over the Ohio River, due to poor maintenance and overloading, causing the death of 46 persons. Proposition 6 would countermand the sensible approach taken by the Legislature and the governor to meet such challenges to California’s transportation system.
Conan Nolan – Chief Political Reporter and Anchor of ‘News Conference”, KNBC-LA
You might have called it a burst of California optimism when ten years ago this November voters narrowly approved a plan to build a high speed train connecting Northern and Southern California through the San Joaquin Valley. The route was to be 432 miles long from Los Angeles Union Station to downtown San Francisco, would take just two hours and thirty eight minutes with tickets $20 cheaper than the average shuttle flight from SFO to LAX. The cost was manageable and there would be plenty of private investment.
Backers included then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Organized labor was a big supporter as well.
It’s a good bet that most voters thought we’d be a lot father along with the build out of California’s bullet train than we are. But 2008 was a much different period. It was easier to think about the future. Especially when it came to rail transportation.
Less than two months prior to the bullet train vote California experienced the worst passenger train accident in its history. Metrolink commuter train 111 crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train near Chatsworth killing 25 people and injuring hundreds more.
A distracted engineer was blamed for the accident but a contributing factor was a problem which plagues passenger rail throughout the state and the nation. The commuter train was operating not on its own track but on a single track owned and shared with Union Pacific.
For California’s future transportation needs to be met that needs to change.
Metrolink currently owns just over half of the 540 route miles on which it operates. The rest is used by fright companies. While the commuter line is receiving funding from California’s High Speed Rail Authority that money is mostly for locamotives and the establishment of Positive Train Control (a safety endevour resulting from the Chatsworth disaster).
Metrolink needs to own its own tracks. So does Caltrain. And while it would make rail transportation safer it would also help link the state together using not technology of the future, but a system we have today.
Currently the state pays for passenger trains connecting Los Angeles with San Diego to the south and San Luis Obispo to the north (Pacific Surfliner), San Jose to Sacramento (the Capitol Corridor) and Bakersfield to Oakland (the San Joaquin). The LA to San Diego run is one of the most popular in the nation.
But what keeps the system from becoming an efficient link between population regions is a lack of customer confidence they will get to their destination on time. That’s because much of the tracks don’t belong to the public but to private companies. Whenever there is a conflict, passenger trains stand aside while the fright gets priority.
A fraction of the investment now being used for HSR would allow California’s current rail system to be efficient enough to provide a legitimate alternative to auto traffic and congested airports. Cities such as Stockton could be tied directly to jobs in the Bay Area. Commute times would certainly not be in the order of the futuristic bullet trains but in the day of high speed internet they don’t need to be. Reliable connectivity, as well as arrival and departure times, would allow commuters to be productive while in transit.
In his final “State of the State” address Governor Jerry Brown announced, “I like trains and I like high-speed trains even better.” But the governor, and his successor, must understand that much has changed since 2008 and now we have not just a dramatic need for more housing but a need to connect people and jobs to that housing. A reliable network of passenger rail system is essential for that goal to be achieved.
For the state to have a future it must have a functioning present. Investment in the legacy transit system that first connected California with the rest of the nation needs our attention.
Amanda Renteria – Board member, Emerge America & Former Chief of Operations, California Department of Justice
To have a truly modern transportation system, it will require a commitment to upgrading the current roadways which have been ignored for decades and strategically investing in all modalities of transportation in each region of the state. That means, having a thoughtful and integrated plan with tangible metrics to improve access in rural areas in the Central Valley and reduce traffic in denser cities like San Francisco and LA.