Red state or blue, Americans sick of gridlock
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
In cities and suburbs - small, large, red and blue - voters were united this
week on one key issue: paying to get out of traffic jams. They approved
almost 80% of transportation tax and bond measures.
"Public transportation won almost everywhere," says Stephanie Vance, program
manager for the Center for Transportation Excellence, a non-profit research
group in Washington, D.C. "It was astonishing how much was passed."
At least 23 of 31 ballot measures to launch or expand bus and rail lines in
11 states were approved, she says. The price tag: more than $40 billion.
Voters approved 19 of 24 other tax or bond measures for roads and bridges
only, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.
"It speaks volumes to what voters see as a very important problem," says
Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the transportation lobbying group. "People are
clamoring for relief from traffic congestion. ... The voters are way ahead
of the politicians on this."
California and Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved measures to stop
their states from dipping into highway funds to pay for projects unrelated
to transportation - something budget-strapped states have done recently.
A federal spending program for roads and transit expired in 2003, and a new
spending bill has been languishing on Capitol Hill. President Bush signed an
extension through May 31. Almost half of funding for state and local
transportation comes from the federal government.
Tight finances have prompted state and local governments to ask voters to
help pay for new light-rail systems, wider highways and more bus routes. And
despite concerns over the economy, most voters said 'yes.'
Even in California, where tax increases require two-thirds approval, 75% of
the 12 transit measures on local ballots passed.
"It says people really want transportation choices," Vance says. "It doesn't
matter if it was a red state or if it was a blue state, if it was urban or
suburban. It's across the board."
How transportation fared in:
*Colorado: 57% of Denver-area voters approved a sales-tax increase to
finance a $4.7 billion expansion of light rail to suburbs and the city's
*Arizona: 57% of Maricopa County voters agreed to extend a half-cent sales
tax to fund Phoenix's light-rail system and improve freeways.
*Virginia: Arlington and Fairfax counties, suburbs of Washington, D.C.,
overwhelmingly passed bond measures to fund roads and transit.
*California: Two-thirds of voters in Sonoma County, in the state's wine
country, approved a sales-tax hike to ease traffic congestion and fund a
rail line and bike and pedestrian paths.
"The reality is that congestion has been growing, and more and more roadways
out there are falling apart," says Jim Riley, a director of HNTB Corp., a
design and engineering firm that advises transportation officials.