Voters Weigh in on Transportation Initiatives

Regardless of your political persuasion, November’s election results made significant statements on several issues – one of which is transportation.

Nationwide, more than 300 transportation-related initiatives appeared on ballots in the November general election, plus there have been nearly 200 other measures that have gone before voters earlier this year. In total, American voters have contemplated $13 billion in transportation funding this year. To me, this is great progress and reflects an increasing appetite among citizens to address and fund transportation projects.

While voters may agree on the need for additional transportation funding, the sources for that funding vary across the board – although sales taxes, bonds and property taxes have emerged as the most popular funding tools. Only two ballot initiatives utilized user fees, like tolls and vehicle registration fees. Californians voted to keep the gas tax and vehicle fee increases which passed the state legislature in 2017 and have provided $5 billion for road repairs and improvements per year since their implementation. Meanwhile, Missouri voters rejected a 10-cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax.

In Texas, more than 10 of these 314 transportation initiatives have appeared on local ballots this year. In May, Arlington residents approved a $137 million proposition to repair and maintain roadways and bicycle/pedestrian paths, which will be funded through sales taxes. Last week, voters there also favored another proposition, this time a bond package, for general transportation improvements.

Collin County, Duncanville, Pilot Point and Richwood also joined the trend by passing several local propositions supported by bonds, which will go primarily toward road repairs and improvements, as well as general transportation upgrades. Baytown and Richland Hills voters approved $3 million and $24 million, respectively, in additional transportation funding through sales taxes to repair local streets.

In Austin, Proposition G sailed to passage with more than 80 percent of the vote. The $160 million bond package will address an array of transportation needs, with the majority –

$66.5 million – aimed at street reconstruction and another $20 million that will improve sidewalks around heavily used public spaces, such as schools, parks, shopping centers and downtown. Plus, a $1 million investment will be directed to the Neighborhood Partnering Program, in which locals and the city can partner on projects aimed at improving quality of life – something we talk about quite frequently at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

In preparation of our 2017 Annual Report, “It’s Time to Get Moving,” we asked Central Texans for their perspective on quality of life and transportation. Almost 80 percent said that more time would improve quality of life, and nearly 90 percent agreed that traffic congestion negatively impacts it.

Although Tuesday’s results were a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go in terms of sufficient and reliable long-term revenue streams to support our growing Central Texas transportation network. And while Prop G’s $160 million will provide benefits to Central Texans, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the overall needs of the region. For example, the Texas Department of Transportation recently proposed $480 million worth of improvements to I-35 in Travis County, the bulk of which is needed to add lanes and reconstruct freeway ramps in the busiest sections of highway.

No matter what the mode of transportation or source of funding, it’s clear that it will take a combination of new and creative methods, as well as traditional approaches, to address transportation issues and allow Central Texans to enjoy a comfortable, quality life.

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