Debate on SMCo. transportation tax projects begins
- 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
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
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
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@...>.