Transportation Funding

If people paid for their transportation like they they pay for their food, it would be a lot easier to understand transportation funding, and to understand why thre are so few choices left for them. Although government intervenes in all sectors of the economy, the transportation sector receives far more intervention than the food sector.

The Funding Game

Transportation funding is a complex web of money, taxes, and fees that is determined and handled at all government levels. Ostensibly, the rules are set up to assure that tax funds will be distributed equitably and will be spent efficiently, and that the requests for government funds will be limited to what is actually available. But there are other reasons as well, that generally involve pleasing one group of constituents at the expense of other groups – groups being transportation users, or taxpayers, or manufacturers or many others – the list is endless.

To put together a new transportation project, or to keep past projects running, the proponents must understand what they must say or do to draw funds from the "buckets" or accounts in which they are held. The "spigots" through which the funds flow from the buckets are complex combinations of rules of approval.

In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, funding is largely controlled by the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission), on the web at

MTC provides some helpful information on funding at . Specifically, it has a web publication, "Moving Costs: A Transportation Funding Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area" that is worth reading. It is particularly useful for anyone not yet familiar with the alphabet soup of transportation funding acronyms.

Keep in mind that MTC generally includes funding that it allocates, or that is reported to it (such as transit fares).  Not accounted for are the costs of unreported expenditures, such as private costs of vehicle ownership, maintenance and operation, and parking costs.  Parking costs are mostly privately subsidized via governmental edict, and are larger than all the rest of the transportation funding that MTC reports, combined.

Local Transportation Funding

Sonoma County has recently obtained the requisite two-thirds voter approval of a quarter percent sales tax to fund transportation in the County.  Under Measure M, the Traffic Relief Act For Sonoma County, these funds will be divided as follows:

pothole repair and street maintenance
safety projects, relieve traffic and fix bottlenecks.
Highway 101 widenings
Bus, Rail and Bicycle & Pedestrian projects
administration, project management and audits

Prior to the 2004 ballot on Measure M, the SMART Board of Directors filed to put a passenger rail measure on the November 2006 ballot in Marin and Sonoma Counties, also for a quarter percent sales tax.

Funding Rail in Sonoma and Marin Counties

Although surveys undertaken in both Sonoma and Marin Counties established the popularity of the rail project with the voters, the difficulty of obtaining two-thirds approval cannot be denied.  The public discussion of the project is already getting underway.



For the complete text of the Expenditure Plan in the ballot measure, Measure M (307 Mb PDF file)