A quality transportation system is vital to a community or region’s economic prosperity and quality of life. Without the mobility a functional transportation system provides, the cost to ship and receive goods goes up, businesses choose to not locate or expand, people spend too much time stuck in traffic, air quality and health suffers and vehicles become subject to costly repairs.
A properly functioning, well-maintained streets and highway system is absolutely critical for public safety and mobility, emergency responders, law enforcement, the trucking industry and all those dependent on farm-to-market commerce. Economic development experts tell us that regional mobility and access are key requirements of business and industry for job creation and retention. A side benefit is that it has an overall positive effect on property values in an area, effectively raising the value of our homes and businesses.
Fresno County drivers currently travel more than 24 million miles daily on 7,000-plus miles of state and local roads and highways within our region. Our population is projected to grow by 27 percent over the next 25 years, which is equivalent to adding three new cities the size of Clovis, increasing our daily vehicle miles traveled to 33 million. Our transit systems also provide 10.6 million rides annually, sharing the road with cars, trucks and bicyclists. Given these numbers, we must preserve our local streets and roads if we hope to maintain our regional mobility and the benefits that go with it.
Fresno County has been fortunate to have 30-plus years of investment in transportation infrastructure via Measure C, the ½-cent sales tax for transportation. This local investment has built many of the major streets, highways and freeways we all enjoy. However, Measure C itself was not and will not be enough. Much of the Measure C revenue built the systems, relying on other local and state agencies to maintain them. However, the spending power of transportation maintenance funding has declined due to the rising costs of labor and materials combined with declining revenue from higher-mileage vehicles. Agencies responsible for road maintenance have not been able to keep up.
Realizing that revenues are sorely needed to counteract rising maintenance costs, in July 2017 the state raised California’s fuel tax for the first time in more than 20 years through Senate Bill (SB) 1. The vote that set SB 1 in motion was obtained only after months of laborious negotiations that yielded the necessary two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and the Senate. Then, in June 2018 the people of California passed Proposition 69 by more than 70 percent of the popular vote. Proposition 69 assures that SB 1’s proceeds are “lockboxed” for transportation purposes only and cannot be diverted for other purposes.
Fresno County has one of the largest road networks in the state, if not the nation. That system takes a pounding every year from the high volume of cars and heavy trucks traveling in and through our region. Because the cost to repair a road rises significantly as the damage gets worse, keeping our system maintained while it’s still in working order is paramount.
Over the first 10 years of SB 1, $5.25 billion is budgeted for our region’s street, road, highway and bridge repair; congestion relief; sustainable transportation projects; planning and research. SB 1 has allowed Fresno County and its cities to fund more than 78 projects in its first year alone, investing more than $47 million in our local infrastructure and economy. The lists of completed and planned projects are available online at www.rebuildingca.ca.gov. They include such improvements as:
▪ a seven-and-a-half-mile overlay of hot asphalt mix on Huntington Road beginning at SR 168 for nearly $3 million;
▪ a similar overlay on Nees Avenue from Fairfax Avenue to the Millux alignment for $3.2 million;
▪ a $1.6 million overlay on Blackstone Avenue from Shaw Avenue to Ashlan Avenue that includes curb-and-gutter repair, curb ramp replacements, signing and pavement markings.
Proposition 6 on the November ballot proposes to repeal SB 1. Without SB 1, all of these projects and plans could be either eliminated, reduced in scope, or substantially delayed. This November voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 6, choosing between the new Senate Bill 1 (gas tax) funding in place, or a transportation funding alternative to be determined in the future. Without question, this vote will set the tone for the future of transportation funding in this county and the state.
Fresno Council of Governments’ Executive Director Tony Boren and Fresno County Transportation Authority Executive Mike Leonardo have more than 60 years of experience in transportation planning and engineering between them, all of it within this region.