Mega-measure: $100 billion traffic-busting tax plan for the Bay Area taking shape

Bigger than anything the Bay Area has seen before, a
nine-county-wide plan to raise $100 billion in taxes over several
decades to redefine the region’s transportation network could be
ready for public input in the next several months, transportation
officials said.

The plan now even has a name: Faster Bay Area.

The idea is to create a truly regional transit system that would
more seamlessly connect the Bay Area’s extensive network of
rails, buses and ferries, said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of
the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a business advocacy
organization that is partnering with the Bay Area Council and the
urban planning think-tank SPUR to put the tax on the ballot.

Inspired by the success of two 2016 ballot measures in Seattle
and Los Angeles that will raise, respectively, $54 billion and $120
billion over 20 and 40 years, leaders of the three organizations
got to thinking: Why not here? They began meeting in January 2017
to
craft a plan
, seeking input from transportation professionals,
transit agency heads and others for what such a regional system
might entail. They are still skittish about releasing precise
details, saying there’s more work to be done to gather feedback
from city leaders, congestion management agencies, transit agencies
and commuters.

A
proposed “Southern Crossing” would carry more than just cars in
this architectural rendering of a proposed new bridge, just one of
several transportation improvements imagined as part of a
“mega” funding measure. (Courtesy of Jeff Heller) 

But any plan likely would include significant improvements to
BART and Caltrain service, including a second cross-bay tube or
bridge for BART, providing relief for the trains that bottleneck in
West Oakland. There could be a vast network of toll lanes that ring
the bay and radiate to the north, east and south, sharing lanes
with buses, and a more robust expansion of the Bay Area’s ferry
network. Details of what the plan would include will be hammered
out in the next several months, Guardino said, with the aim of
having a final draft by the year’s end.

The goal, he said, is “to build a seamlessly integrated
world-class transit system that serves the transit-dependent and
lures the non-transit dependent out of their vehicles.”

The problem with traffic in the Bay Area, said Alicia
John-Baptiste, president and CEO of SPUR, is that the entire
transportation network was designed for cars. BART and Caltrain
were crafted as commuter trains, not urban rail systems, which run
frequent, all-day service, though BART now functions as one, and
Caltrain has indicated it aspires to be one. More than two dozen
bus agencies, all operating within distinct fiefdoms, have trouble
serving sprawling suburbs that weren’t built with frequent
service in mind.

A
BART train is seen next to commuter traffic on East bound Highway
24 in Lafayette, Calif., on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. (Doug
Duran/Bay Area News Group) 

Meanwhile, traffic congestion, measured as the time people spend
slogging along freeways at speeds of 35 mph or less, grew 80
percent from 2010 to 2016, and then held steady in 2017, according
to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s
transportation planning agency. And there’s not enough space to
keep building new freeways, which only get clogged with more cars
as the population grows, she said.

“We designed a system 50 to 60 years ago around the concept
that everyone would be able to get into their car and get from
Point A to Point B,” John-Baptiste said. “As we’ve grown as a
region, that’s simply not how it functions today.”

In Seattle, voters in 2016 approved a mix of property,
vehicle and sales taxes
to raise $54 billion over 20 years to
fund 62 miles of new light rail tracks across three counties and a
network of buses separated from traffic. The same year, Angelenos
approved a
county-wide, half-cent sales tax
to raise $120 billion over 40
years for a dramatic expansion of the county’s rail, rapid bus
and bicycle network.

But just how the Bay Area aims to raise $100 billion or more is
still to be determined, said Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of
the Bay Area Council. The organizations are beginning to conduct
polls to test funding concepts that might include sales, business,
property and other taxes. Earlier this year, this news organization

partnered with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group on a poll

that asked registered voters, among other questions, whether they
would support a 1-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects in
the Bay Area. Seventy-one percent of respondents answered,
“Yes.”

Slow
traffic on Highway 101 in Redwood City heads toward the Dumbarton
Bridge on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. The Bay Bridge remains closed
for repairs after a cable snapped Tuesday night. The closure has
greatly slowed Bay Area commutes, sending traffic onto the other
bridges, including the Dumbarton. (Kat Wade / Daily News) 

Already though, there appears to be disagreement about what
qualifies as “transformational.” At the Santa Clara Valley
Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday
evening, staff proposed a series of infrastructure improvements on
interstates 880 and 280 and highways 101 and 85. But board member
John McAllister shot back, arguing for a more regional vision that
focused on corridors, not one-off projects.

“We’ve got a lot of projects,” he said, “but they
don’t help the region unless we really work to reduce greenhouse
gases, reduce congestion, and what’s our tag line? Get people
moving.”

In order for the measure to appear on the ballot in all nine
counties, the legislature would have to pass a bill allowing the
vote, similar to the bill that placed Regional Measure 3 on the
ballot, which
voters approved last year.
The $3 bridge toll increase, spread
out over six years, will raise $4.45 billion over the next decade
to partially fund some three dozen transportation projects across
the Bay Area. Wunderman likened it to a test run for the $100
billion proposed “mega-measure.”

A
construction worker works on a model home on Seaward Court at the
Delta Coves housing development in Bethel Island, Calif. on Monday,
April 8, 2019. Construction has begun on model homes at this marina
community that has been decades in the making.  (Jose Carlos
Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 

Sure to be contested is whether some of the money from the
measure would fund the development of affordable housing, as some
public officials and advocacy organizations have suggested. As real
estate prices have risen in the nine-county Bay Area, people are
increasingly moving farther away in
search of affordable homes
, Wunderman said, often spending
three or more hours each day in their cars getting to and from
work.

“The farther people travel, the more demand there is for
bigger solutions,” he said. “There is no question this region
has to address housing, but how we do that, that is still to be
discussed.”

Regional voters regularly list affordable housing and
homelessness as the top issue in the Bay Area, Guardino said, with
traffic and congestion taking the No. 2 slot. But while there is
considerable consensus on how to improve the region’s
transportation network, there’s far less agreement on the best
way to get the region out of the housing crisis.

“We’re also not closed to including housing,” Guardino
said. “But at the end of the day, voters have to be willing to
pass something.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Mega-measure: 0 billion traffic-busting tax plan for the Bay Area taking shape