Voters may be asked to approve a statewide initiative sponsored by Transportation California and the California Alliance for Jobs titled the California Road Repair Act. It would tax vehicles at 1 percent of their value to raise $2.5 billion annually to repair our degrading road system and ensure that the funds cannot be spent elsewhere.
Save Our Sonoma Roads estimates that, if enacted, Sonoma County would get about $10.6 million per year for 10 years. While welcome, that would only begin to address the county's roads crisis. The supervisors are expected to reveal a long-term plan soon, which might require more than $50 million per year.
Sonoma County is a poster child for California's roads crisis. The average pavement condition index score for county roads is 44, third from the bottom among California's 58 counties. About 65 percent of Sonoma County roads are considered to be either poor (PCI 25-49) or failed (below PCI 25). Sonoma County's residential roads, two-thirds of the county road system, achieve a pavement condition index of only 34.
As the only grass-roots organization in California that is dedicated to representing road users, SOSroads has a different perspective on how to solve this problem than the road construction companies and unions that are sponsoring the initiative.
Naturally construction companies and unions want more work, but they do not necessarily care whether the taxes spent actually solve the problem. We do.
SOSroads thinks the funds should be targeted so that those parts of California whose roads are on the verge of third-world status are not left behind.
The initiative would allocate 40 percent of the funds to the California Department of Transportation for state roads, 30 percent to counties, 30 percent to cities and 10 percent to public transportation. We would include a distressed roads program and dedicate at least 10 percent of the funds to counties and cities with the worst roads as objectively measured by pavement condition index.
The 15 worst counties and 120 worst cities (the lowest 25 percent) each year would receive supplemental funds. We suggest a dollar-for-dollar local match to ensure that the areas with the worst roads share in the cost of their rehabilitation.
The allocation among Caltrans, counties and cities should be equal (30 percent each). Sonoma County drivers recognize that state roads are remarkably better maintained than county roads and city streets. Caltrans, which according to the Reason Foundation spends almost five times more per mile on highway work than other states, should become more efficient.
Taxing vehicles for public transit systems to support exorbitant salaries and pension benefits annoys voters. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission already is redirecting gas tax funds from Sonoma County to BART and similar systems in the urban core of the Bay Area. Public transportation systems are not deteriorating like California's roads. BART's financial problems concern managing its unions, not the condition of its cars and tracks.
Napa County failed twice to raise taxes to repair its roads and succeeded on its third try when it removed funds for public transportation and other non-repair projects. Sonoma County voters rejected Measure W in 2010 because it proposed to spend vehicle taxes on public transportation instead of improving the roads.
Sonoma County's state senators -#8212; Noreen Evans and Lois Wolk -#8212; and Assembly members -#8212; Wes Chesbro, Marc Levine and Mariko Yamada -#8212; have been missing in action on our roads crisis. We need their leadership. They should develop a legislative initiative along the lines suggested here to improve the proposal by road contractors and unions.