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Debate on SMCo. transportation tax projects begins

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  • 5/31 San Mateo Independent
    Published Saturday, May 31, 2003, in the San Mateo Independent The half-cent transportation debate begins Highways, transit and housing to compete for place on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2003
      Published Saturday, May 31, 2003, in the San Mateo Independent

      The half-cent transportation debate begins
      Highways, transit and housing to compete for place on new Measure A

      By Sara Zaske
      Independent Newspapers

      REDWOOD CITY -- It is bikes against boats, Caltrain versus BART --
      all transit options against the almighty car. The battle over a
      renewed Measure A -- San Mateo County's half-percent, dedicated
      transportation sales tax -- has begun.

      Since its adoption in 1988, the current Measure A has already
      funneled roughly $375 million into local transportation projects. If
      current plans hold, voters will decide in November 2004 whether to
      extend the local tax past its 2008 sunset date.

      But exactly which projects would get funded with the Measure A money
      will be decided long before the measure ever reaches the ballot.

      The fight for a piece of that half-percent began in an Oracle
      conference room on May 22, as a slew of project proponents presented
      their arguments before a roomful of business leaders, government
      officials and transit advocates.

      New ferry routes, buses, road repair, bike paths, a plan to take
      BART from Millbrae to San Jose -- the simple profusion of
      possibilities bothered some attendees. "There isn't that much money,
      people," said San Mateo councilmember John Lee.

      The current Measure A generates $50 million annually -- although at
      the height of the economic boom, that number swelled to $70 million.
      If extended over a 30-year period, the next Measure A could generate
      more than $1.5 billion and leverage millions more in federal and
      state transportation dollars.

      Despite such seemingly large sums, the money cannot cover
      everything. Many transportation projects carry price tags in the
      hundreds of millions -- and some, such as a proposed BART extension
      -- would cost billions.

      Lee feels some items should be eliminated from the measure, such as
      so-called transit-oriented development -- a plan to encourage
      construction of housing, offices and stores within walking distances
      of transit hubs. Advocates claim that the location of development is
      key to creating and solving traffic problems. "The reason we are all
      in this room is because we have land use problems," said Sarah
      Karlinsky of the Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition.

      Others complained about ferries -- namely that running boat routes
      to South San Francisco and Redwood City will be too expensive and
      too slow. The Water Transit Authority estimates that the new
      Peninsula routes to San Francisco would cost $185 million in start-
      up and operational costs. The WTA and ferry boosters are already
      looking for funding from other sources such as the federal
      government and a proposed $1 hike in bridge tolls, as well as the
      local sales tax.

      Even if all the funding is approved, the boats would not embark from
      South San Francisco for more than four years, and Redwood City would
      not see the ferries for a decade. "I love the ferries, but I'm
      sorry, 2013 isn't going to sell in Redwood City," said Peter
      Shepherd, laboratory manager for Cargill Salt.

      "Selling" Measure A to voters weighed heavily on many of the
      conference attendees. Renewal of the transportation tax must win a
      two-thirds approval during a time when many Peninsula residents are
      pinching their own pennies.

      While the Measure A renewal would not cause any increase in the
      current sales tax, there is a state proposal to add another half-
      percent to the sales tax to help cure the state's budget crisis. If
      enacted, it would bring the Peninsula's sales tax to 8.75 percent,
      potentially curbing voters' enthusiasm for a local transportation
      tax.

      The best selling point of Measure A is perhaps one of the most
      controversial -- extending BART even further from Millbrae to San
      Jose. According to a survey of likely voters, 63 percent would
      support the tax renewal if BART is on the measure.

      Of all the transportation proposals, BART is by far the biggest
      money-hog, according to several Caltrain advocates. The new 8.7-mile
      extension from Daly City to Millbrae cost nearly $1.5 billion to
      build. A plan to span the remaining 34 miles to San Jose would run
      into several billion dollars -- well beyond what Measure A could
      raise in 30 years.

      Still, the popularity of BART swayed many at the conference to
      support inclusion at least a study for a future BART extension in
      the transportation tax measure. "If it will win, it's in," said
      Peter Grenell, the general manager of the San Mateo County Harbor
      District.

      Mike Scanlon, SamTrans' general manager, urged caution when
      considering BART's role in the transit future. "We have to be honest
      with the public -- not just have a popularity contest because
      something happened to resonate with the public," he said "We have to
      inform the public. ... We have to be dead-on honest."

      While the debate swirled around transit options, no one openly
      backed highway expansions, but several apparently are under
      consideration for funding. A draft list of potential projects
      compiled by the Transportation Authority staff lists extra lanes for
      highways 101, 280, 92 and Route 1 above Half Moon Bay.

      "These are suggestions. This is where the discussion will begin,"
      said Supervisor Jerry Hill.

      In coming months, Hill said a final list of projects will be
      developed after more discussions, polling of voters and focus groups
      are conducted. The Measure A funding list will be approved by the
      county Board of Supervisors, the City and County Association of
      Governments and the Transportation Authority before going before
      voters in November.


      Contact Sara Zaske at 650-652-6736 or <szaske@...>.
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