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Tolling Points

California Toll Agencies Get to Work Following Defeat of Gas Tax Repeal

By: 
Bill Cramer

Well, that didn’t take long.

The day after California voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure to repeal a state gas tax increase enacted last year, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) announced it would push ahead with a $544-million express lane expansion, aimed at reducing traffic gridlock along the 15 Freeway.

The message is clear: Nothing is free. Roads, bridges, tunnels, maintenance and efforts to reduce congestion all cost money and will be paid for with either taxes, tolls or a combination.

“This is the way infrastructure investment is supposed to work,” said IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones. “Everyone pays a price when there isn’t enough money to clear highway congestion or keep roadways in a state of good repair. Citizens get to decide when and whether to invest in those improvements. When they are ready to proceed, transportation agencies are ready to roll. And tolling is an important part of the solution.”

A Good Night for Infrastructure

The California gas tax decision was one of the highest-profile developments for transportation, along with the election or re-election of two northeastern governors with an affinity for truck tolling, when the United States held midterm elections November 6. But those news bites were just part of a bigger picture that shows voters expressing strong support for the infrastructure investment the country so desperately needs, and the new U.S. House of Representatives majority is getting set to act.

The first lesson legislators learned was a repeat: In this election, as in past ones over the last five years, state representatives across the political spectrum faced no penalty from voters if they were prepared to support responsible infrastructure investment, according to analysis by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center™.

“Voters in 12 states overwhelmingly re-elected 93% of 530 state lawmakers who supported a gas tax increase between 2015 and 2018 and ran for re-election in 2018,” ARTBA reports, a marginally better win rate than the 90% score for the 211 legislators who opposed higher gas taxes.

And the results definitely crossed party lines. “Winning state lawmakers in November 6 races included 92% of Republicans, and 94% of Democrats,” ARTBA states.

Meanwhile, The New York Times points to infrastructure investment as an early priority for the incoming Democratic majority in the House, while CityLab reports on a wave of public support for highway and transit initiatives. Voters adopted “hundreds of state and local measures on Tuesday’s ballots, approving new and continuing investments in streets, bridges, ports, and transit systems,” the online news outlet states, though “shifting federal transportation priorities will continue to be an uphill slog” in a new era of divided government.

Ready to Roll in Riverside County

In Riverside County, California, the Riverside County Transportation Commission was just waiting for the ballot result to get a long-standing plan into operation. The idea of extending an existing express lane network south to Highway 74 in Lake Elsinore has been on the books since 2006, The Press-Enterprise reports. The major barrier has been funding.

“The bottom line is, after we spent a billion and a half dollars in the 91 corridor, we ran out of money,” said longtime Lake Elsinore Councilman Bob Magee. “There was no more money to build anything else.”

But “now that Prop. 6 has failed,” The Press-Enterprise notes “the agency can cobble together enough money to build the $544 million extension.”

The local coverage lists a couple of other congestion relief projects in Riverside County that could gain support now that Proposition 6 has been decided once and for all.

“Magee said the development also boosts efforts of a southwest Riverside County task force that formed last November to explore traffic solutions and lobby for toll lanes south to the San Diego-Riverside county line,” writes reporter David Downey. “Commissioners from southwest cities will push to make that a goal, too, he said, when the panel meets early next year.”

Communities win when the tolling industry speaks up! Visit the Moving America Forward public awareness campaign page for tolls and facts on smart tolling.