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The tax and vehicle license fees do not sunset, which means they will live on in perpetuity unless repealed at the ballot box or adjusted by future administrations.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.