Fixing potholes could suck up all the new “Measure M” money

A Pavement System Preservation report is summarized on page 22 of the SCTA’s TAC agenda for this Thursday, September 26.

The report says that an additional $964 million would be needed over the next 30 years just to maintain existing pothole conditions for all of Sonoma County—$32 million per year! That’s about $7 million per year more than the money raised last year by the current 1/4-cent transportation sales tax (Measure M, enacted in 2004).

If we expect to rebuild roads in all of the jurisdictions of the County to achieve a “state of good repair” over the next 30 years, $75 million would be required every year—more than twice as much as is needed just to keep the number of potholes from increasing.

Clearly, policy makers made a mistake decades ago, when they allowed so many developments with so many roads to be constructed. They should have calculated the burdens that such projects place on public treasuries.

Last week we saw the Board of Supervisors approve up to 1,900 new accessory dwelling units. But the planners say the impact of several thousand more autos would be “negligible.”

Where does it all stop, and how do we get adequate funding for bike-pedestrian trails and more transit into any extension of the Measure M sales tax?

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). MTC provides some helpful information on funding at https://mtc.ca.gov/our-work/fund-invest.

A quantitative overview can be obtained from some graphs used by MTC in public presentations. They show declining purchasing power of State and Federal fuel taxes, expected increases in population and travel, and a breakdown of future Bay Area expenditures on transportation.

(Re)coding communities for smart growth

Tyler Quinn-Smith, Smart Growth America

There’s a secret weapon available to communities that want to modernize their zoning codes and help make smarter growth the norm. Codes for Communities is a wide-ranging technical assistance program at Smart Growth America that covers all kinds of zoning reform and guidance on form-based codes. In just two years, the program has had tremendous impact in communities of all sizes across America.

Zoning codes are the unseen yet decisive guiding force that can either help or hinder the creation of great, walkable, people-scaled places. Reforming these codes doesn’t come easy for any community. Updating antiquated zoning regulations can be daunting and it’s often difficult for elected officials and residents to even imagine a scenario where things can be better. But, thanks to the Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI)—a program of Smart Growth America—there are resources to help communities move forward, including a comprehensive three-course curriculum, a library of exemplary form-based codes, and zoning experts ready to guide you through the changes that your community needs to make to achieve the walkable, human-scaled, context-sensitive growth they desire.

No matter how simple or complex the issue, FBCI’s Codes for Communities program provides local governments with guidance for success by drawing on the experience and talent of the nation’s most experienced coding professionals. FBCI offers all levels of assistance, from a brief code review to in-depth analyses of existing regulations, interviews with key stakeholders, presentations to community leaders, and a final report with findings and recommendations.

Read more at https://smartgrowthamerica.org/recoding-communities-for-smart-growth/

Should electric vehicle drivers pay per mile?

Laura Bliss, CityLab

Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

More than 1 million electric cars are now zipping (quietly) around the United States. That’s still a tiny fraction of the nation’s 260 million-strong vehicle fleet, but EVs hit a sales record of 208,000 registrations in 2018. As more mass-market plug-in models hit the showrooms, more charging stations pop up, and the menace of “range anxiety” fades, new EV drivers are born every day.

But are all those Bolts, Volts, Leafs, and Teslas paying their fair share for the asphalt they drive on? The Highway Trust Fund, the federal government’s purse for road maintenance, depends on the 18 cents per gallon U.S. motorists pay in gasoline taxes. But it’s nearly insolvent, in part because Americans drive more fuel-efficient machines than before. So states like California, Washington, and Illinois are mulling a “mileage tax,” where drivers pay a fee based on the number of miles driven, rather than the amount of gas they burn. Oregon, where a pilot program asks participants to pay 1.7 cents per mile in lieu of paying a gas tax, is the example to follow.

Yet the question of getting plug-ins to pay up may be trickier than it seems. In a new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Lucas Davis, a professor of business and technology and a director of U.C. Berkeley’s Energy Institute, and James Sallee, a professor in the school’s department of agricultural and resource economics, estimate that while the U.S. does indeed forgo millions in tax revenue thanks to EVs, instituting a special tax on electric vehicles might produce unwanted side effects.

Read more at https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2019/07/electric-vehicles-gas-tax-mileage-fees-highway-trust-fund/594466/