East Bay: Politicians, labor demand Sacramento find money for roads

March 7, 2016

PACHECO — Within sight of the Highway 4/Interstate 680 interchange that chokes with commute traffic every weekday morning and evening, a group of officials and union members gathered Wednesday to demand the governor and state Legislature fix transportation funding.

Their pleas come in light of the Jan. 22 cut of an estimated $754 million from the California Transportation Commission’s five-year plan for future state highway, intercity rail and transit improvement programs. That’s a 38 percent decrease.

“You can’t keep kicking the can down the road when things will only get worse,” said Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, one of a dozen or so labor leaders and elected officials who turned out for the news event.

One of those projects defined under the State Transportation Improvement Program that could languish, local leaders said Wednesday, is the $36.6 million Highway 4/I-680 interchange project, complete with flyovers and widening. Construction was scheduled to start next year; now the timetable is uncertain.

There are about 200 other highway, roadway or rail-oriented projects statewide in the same kind of funding limbo. Others in the Bay Area are BART station modernizations in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties; a truck “climbing lane” on Kirker Pass Road between Pittsburg and Concord; and interchange work on I-80 at San Pablo Dam Road in San Pablo and Central Avenue in El Cerrito. Interstate and state highways, as well as local streets, are included.

The $754 million cut is due largely to plummeting state gasoline tax revenue, tied directly to nose-diving gas prices. At 18 cents a gallon only a few years ago, that tax is now 12 cents a gallon. The commission says a 1-cent cut in the gas tax means $140 million a year less for local and state roads.

The loss of this CTC money is setting off a fiscal domino effect. With funding for some major projects coming from several sources, the loss of some funds means others could then dry up, too.

That domino effect, several speakers said Wednesday, stretches to construction jobs — 5,000 of them statewide, Quigley said — and about $1 billion in lost wages.Then there’s the less quantifiable toll on area business in general. Crowded, crumbling roads are bad for businesses big and small, and the people who must commute to them.

“They’re telling us the transportation system in the Bay Area no longer works for workers or for business,” said Michael Cunningham, senior vice president of public policy for the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored public policy advocacy organization. “And that’s a tremendous challenge.”

How likely is it Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature will heed the pleas of business, government and labor and find a way to restore funding for all these projects? a regional planning agency spokesman thinks there’s a “reasonable chance.”

“Several proposals have been brought forward by the Legislature and the governor,” said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the governmental agency responsible for planning, financing and coordinating Bay Area transportation projects. “There’s as good an opportunity for this (action) now as there’s been for quite a while. The state has missed opportunities previously, and they could mess this one up, too.”

Contact Sam Richards at 925-943-8241. Follow him at Twitter.com/samrichardsWC

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Paid for by No on Prop 6: Stop the Attack on Bridge & Road Safety, sponsored by business, labor, local governments and transportation advocates
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