Sonoma County roads, bridges, public transit among uses for new California road tax
North Coast motorists who for years have suffered with some of the most congested and poorly maintained roads in California are likely to find some measure of relief in a massive infrastructure funding plan that squeaked through the state Legislature this week.
Local transportation planners Friday outlined a number of spending possibilities under Senate Bill 1 - everything from repaving city and county roads and making progress on completing widening of Highway 101 through Petaluma, to shoring up flood-control measures and extending a commuter rail line to Windsor.
But even as these planners described elation that Sacramento finally approved transportation funding, they acknowledged many unknowns over how the money is to be allocated and spent, and concerns that the revenue is coming at the expense of higher gas prices and vehicle license fees.
Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who sits on a number of regional transportation boards, said the additional state revenue will be an “immense help” with some critical local infrastructure needs. Rabbitt cited road paving, culvert repair, bridge issues and flood control as among pressing needs.
He said the state funds “won’t get us everything we really want, and I think we have to pursue our own solutions on things. But it’s certainly a great help.”
The exact amount Sonoma County and the rest of the North Coast will receive, and what the money will pay for, is still being determined, dependent on the cost and consumption of fuel in California and complicated funding formulas - some that have yet to be developed.
Local officials also have yet to discuss the potential impacts of the state tax gas tax bill on the possible extension of Measure M, a quarter-cent sales tax approved in 2004 to fund local transportation projects. Some voters may balk at supporting that extension on top of the higher taxes and fees imposed on them by the state.
Senate Bill 1 will generate an estimated $5.4 billion annually over 10 years by raising the base gasoline excise tax by 12 cents, assessing a transportation improvement fee based on the value of vehicles and increasing diesel excise and sales taxes. That’s according to a state analysis that did not estimate numbers beyond a decade.
The tax and vehicle license fees do not sunset, which means they will live on in perpetuity unless repealed at the ballot box or adjusted by future administrations.
Sonoma County will get about $20 million annually over a decade for road repairs under the legislation. Mendocino County will receive $5.6 million a year and Lake County $3.8 million, according to North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.
Of that amount for Sonoma County, about $12.3 million would be available for use in unincorporated areas.
The rest - roughly $7.8 million - would be divvied up among Sonoma County cities according to size, with Santa Rosa projected to get nearly $4 million annually, followed by Petaluma with $1.4 million and Rohnert Park $940,000.
The legislation prioritizes maintenance and rehabilitation of local streets and highways, with the bulk of the projected revenue from higher gas taxes and fees - $30 billion over a decade - being dedicated to those needs.
That could help in Sonoma County, where officials have dedicated more than $65 million for repaving 300 miles of roads over five years through 2017. To date, 206 miles have been completed.
The increased revenue also could help close a $3.7 million funding gap in the county’s transportation department. As a result of the shortfall, officials are weighing the possible elimination of 28 positions, including the entire crew responsible for maintaining culverts.
Susan Klassen, the county’s director of transportation and public works, said she was “thrilled” by the action state lawmakers took this week. But she stated in an email that it’s not a “cure-all” for the county’s needs.
County officials estimate the 10-year cost of rehabilitating and maintaining roads to acceptable standards at $560 million.
Local planners also will be seeking revenue from the state funding package for completing widening of Highway 101 from Petaluma into Marin County, a project estimated to cost more than $200 million.
Highway 101 through the so-called Novato narrows is considered one of several designated congested corridors, which, under the legislation approved this week, are eligible for some piece of a $250 million pie. How much exactly, or even how agencies are to apply for the money, is still being determined.
Suzanne Smith, executive director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, said regional partners are likely to seek “tens of millions” through the program.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority also has hopes the legislation will fund extension of the rail line to Windsor, according to Farhad Mansourian, the agency’s general manager.
SMART last year sought ?$38 million in state cap-and-trade funds for the 3-mile extension of the rail line from Airport Boulevard north to the Windsor station. The funds were not available at the time, but Mansourian on Friday said Senate Bill 1 essentially replenishes the pot.
“We are very, very excited,” Mansourian said.
SMART may also be eligible for funds through the congested corridors program, as well as revenue from a new half-cent sales tax on diesel fuel, according to John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Goodwin cautioned that funding from Senate Bill 1 will not materialize overnight. For instance, the new 12 cents-per-gallon increase in the state excise tax on gasoline and the first 10 cents of the 20 cents per gallon diesel excise tax do not kick in until Nov. 1. A new $100-a-year registration surcharge for ?zero-emission vehicles will not take effect until July 1, 2020.
This means local agencies will have to pro-rate their budgets accordingly. Many transportation planners said Friday they relish the challenge.
“SB1 put down a marker for significant dollar amounts to go to highway and infrastructure projects,” Smith, with SCTA, said. “Many of those programs are going to be competitive, and SCTA will be working very hard to ensure our priority projects compete very well.”
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.