Thursday, November 10, 2016

Transportation funding a voter favorite at ballot box

ATLANTA: A northbound MARTA train passes by bumper to bumper
traffic on GA 400. Photo courtesy of Curtis Compton.

Shortly before Election Day, Emily Han and Ann Henebery of the Eno Center for Transportation outlined 10 ballot measures to watch on Election Day of the hundreds of transportation measures and initiatives that were on the ballot. Of the 10 measures, selected for having broader implications beyond their individual cities or regions, voters passed nine of them. The approval of these measures will help improve public transit in Los Angeles, modernize Rhode Island's ports, connect North Carolina's Research Triangle, and much more.

Let's look at these 10 important transportation ballot measures to see what happened:

Metropolitan Detroit: DEFEATED
Voters narrowly rejected a $4.6 billion regional transit plan to build out a rail and bus network that would have connected Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. The 20-year, $1.2 million tax proposal received roughly 49.5% of the vote, losing by an extremely thin margin.

Los Angeles County: PASSED
Los Angeles voters approved Measure M, a permanent half-cent sales tax increase to fund a major expansion of the county's public transit system. The measure is expected to bring in $120 billion over the next three decades to fund a range of transportation projects, including a rail line to LAX airport, a Purple Line extension to Westwood, and sidewalk/bike infrastructure repairs and expansions. ENO writes that the measure will "allow Los Angeles to create and sustain a robust transportation network."

Rhode Island: PASSED
Rhode Island voters approved a state-wide ballot measure to issue $70 million in bonds to finance expansion of two seaports to accommodate larger freight ships. With the rise of ocean carrier alliances and the gigantic "neo-Panamax" ships coming into America's ports, it will continue to be important to deepen waterways and modernize our maritime infrastructure.

Louisiana: PASSED
Voters approved Amendment 5, which will create a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund funded by oil and gas revenue, as well as corporate taxes when collections are higher than usual. Once the fund reaches $5 billion, some of it will be spent on construction projects and road work. ENO writes that Amendment 5 "presents yet another scenario where a state is using new, creative means to generate funding for transportation infrastructure."

Sound Transit District, Metropolitan Seattle: PASSED
Voters approved Sound Transit 3 with 54% support. Proposition 1 raises property, sales, and car-tab taxes to finance a slew of new transportation projects including 62 more miles of light rail, extended commuter rail, more park-and-ride spaces, and bus rapid transit.

Honolulu: PASSED
Voters approved a charter amendment placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for public transportation, including setting rail fares, solely in the Department of Transportation, rather than the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. ENO wrote the vote "would provide a precedent for voters changing a transit agency's governance;" the measure is a response to increasing costs of constructing the city's rail system.

Atlanta: PASSED
Voters overwhelmingly approved a half-penny increase for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to expand transit services, as well as a three-quarters-penny increase to pay for traffic signal synchronization, road repairs, new bike lanes, and buying right-of-way to complete the Atlanta Beltline.

Wake County, NC: PASSED
Voters approved a half-cent increase to the local sales tax rate to fund an expansion of public transportation. The tax will generate $1 billion towards a regional transit plan extending bus and rail service into new neighborhoods and improving connectivity in the Research Triangle of Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh.

New Jersey: PASSED
New Jersey voters approved a "lockbox" amendment requiring the state's 37.5-cent per gallon gas tax to go exclusively to transportation. The issue was supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders of the state legislature, who compromised on a deal to raise the gas tax by 23 cents and cut other taxes after the state ran out of money to pay for transportation projects.

Arlington, VA: PASSED
Arlington voters broadly approved a bond referendum for transportation projects. Included in the $58.8 million package is $30 million for WMATA's capital improvement program, $23.89 million for road pavement, and $5 million for other projects such as bridge renogations, BikeArlington, and traffic signals. ENO had written that "it will be interesting to see if voters in this transit-intensive county still have trust in the system" given WMATA's fiscal woes - with 78% support, it seems they do.

We can see based on these results that there remains an appetite for new and/or improved public transportation options in America's cities even if it means raising taxes. What's more, voters are also willing to pay for projects that will help fuel economic development in the region (see Rhode Island) or change an agency's governance when they aren't satisfied with the results they're getting (see Hawaii).

After a very eventful election, we'll all be watching to see how transportation policy will be reshaped at the federal level. But we see from these ballot measures that cities continue to lead the way, with voter approval, in providing public transportation and infrastructure upkeep for their constituents at the local level.

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