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Roundup 11-11-2016

November 11, 2016

Contents

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country . . .

— Wake County, NC (Raleigh)

— Marion County, IN (Indianapolis)

— Atlanta area

— Los Angeles County, CA

— San Diego County, CA

— Sacramento and Placer Counties, CA

— San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, CA (BART)

— Virginia Beach, VA

— Charleston, SC

— Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb Counties, MI (Detroit area)

— King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties, WA (Seattle)

— Kansas City, MO

— New Jersey

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida . . .

– Broward County/Cities, FL

Conclusion

________________________________________

This week, we were sort of distracted by the elections.  There has obviously been a lot of talk about the election, trends, voters, etc.  There has also been a lot of talk about a transit referendum in Hillsborough County.  At the nexus of those things were transit referenda around the country.  So we decided take a look at the major ones, especially the ones involving rail.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country . . .

— Wake County, NC (Raleigh):

The proposal:

The Wake Transit Plan calls on the county to build a commuter rail system between Garner and Durham with stops at N.C. State University, downtown Cary, Research Triangle Park, Morrisville near RDU International Airport and Duke University in Durham.

The plan also aims to introduce Bus Rapid Transit, which runs buses in dedicated lanes and gives them priority at traffic signals. BRT buses would mostly run along four main corridors in Raleigh’s core: Western Boulevard, Capital Boulevard, New Bern Avenue and Wilmington Street. They would also connect to downtown Cary, WakeMed Raleigh and the Tryon Road-U.S. 401 intersection near Garner.

Result:

Wake County voters agreed to raise the sales tax to expand public transit options.

With all precincts reporting, about 53 percent of voters supported a referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to help pay for a 10-year, $2.3 billion plan to add commuter rail and increase bus service throughout the county.

— Marion County, IN (Indianapolis):

The proposal:

The transit question, which was included on all Marion County ballots, asked voters whether they wanted to give the City-County Council the authority to impose an income tax of up to 0.25 percent—25 cents per $100 of income—to help fund the Marion County Transit Plan. For a resident earning $50,000 a year, that 0.25 percent equals an additional $125 in annual income taxes.

The plan calls for $390 million in improvements aimed at strengthening IndyGo’s bus service—extending hours of operation, increasing the number of bus routes that run at 15-minute frequencies, and running every route seven days a week. The transit tax also would fund the operational costs of three rapid-transit lines, which feature buses that run more often and make fewer stops.

For clarity, that is three BRT lines (though, in reality, it is partial BRT with much of the service not on dedicated lanes).

Result:

Marion County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly agreed to a tax increase to pay for an expanded transit system, which means it’s now the City-County Council’s turn to consider the issue.

With 99 percent of precincts in the county reporting, voters favored the measure 59 percent to 41 percent.

— Atlanta area:

There were a number of referenda in the Atlanta area.  The proposals:

One of the taxes voted on by Atlanta residents will raise $2.5 billion for MARTA to add more buses, light rail and infill stations. The other will add more than $300 million to city coffers to synchronize traffic signals, fix roads, add bike lanes and pay for other projects. Atlanta’s sales tax is currently 8 percent.

In addition, $66 million will be dedicated to buying the remaining right-of-way to complete the popular Atlanta Beltline.

* * *

Fulton’s measure would raise up to $655 million over five years. The county and its cities spent more than a year hashing out the details of the plan. Each city and the unincorporated area formed their own lists of transportation improvements that would be funded by the tax increase.

Results:

MARTA will expand in Atlanta, according to the city. Voters overwhelmingly approved a half-penny sales tax that will last for 40 years, and is intended to raise more than $2 billion. 

* * *

Atlanta voters approved another sales tax: four-tenths of a penny that will go towards transportation, including the BeltLine, sidewalk repairs and overhauls on some big streets.

A transportation sales tax in areas of Fulton County outside the city of Atlanta also appeared to have passed as of Wednesday morning. Funds from that tax will go towards infrastructure needs and addressing congestion, not towards transit.

— Los Angeles County, CA:

LA County had one of the biggest proposals. The proposal:

Measure M would add a half-cent sales tax and extend the existing Measure R half-cent increase passed by voters in 2008. Both increases would be permanent unless voters act to repeal them.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates the tax increase would generate $120 billion over 40 years, funding massive rail expansions, highway improvements, biking and walking infrastructure and local street repairs.

Among the biggest projects proposed are a subway under the Sepulveda Pass connecting the San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles, an extension of the Gold Line to Claremont, a northern spur of the Crenshaw line, possibly into West Hollywood, a light rail connecting Artesia to downtown L.A. and acceleration of construction of the Purple Line subway to Westwood to be finished 10 years earlier than scheduled.

Under California Proposition 13, the tax increase must get two-thirds voter approval to pass. This would be the fourth sales tax increase to support transportation in L.A. County.

Result:

In giving the Measure M transit tax roughly 70% support, a full 3 percentage points above the super-majority it needed to pass, county voters virtually guaranteed that L.A. will finally build the mature, comprehensive public transit system it has been working toward, often haltingly, since the 1980s.

There is plenty of money for roadway improvements in the measure, but a remarkable $860 million in estimated revenue each year will be earmarked for mass-transit projects. Some are ambitious enough to radically remake the region’s public transportation map.

Another countywide proposition, Measure A, passed with an even higher margin, earning more than 73% of the vote. It will boost investments in park space and could accelerate plans to open much of the Los Angeles River to public access. (Measure M will help do the same, in part by funding improvements to the network of bike paths along and leading to the river.) And make no mistake: A city with more open green space is a more urban and public-minded city, one at long last moving beyond the radical privatization that accompanied postwar growth in much of Southern California.

— San Diego County, CA:

Sticking in California and the 2/3 requirement, there was a vote in San Diego.  The proposal:

The 18 cities in the region would have had discretion to use the revenue on road and pothole repairs, fixing sidewalks and open space acquisition.

Other projects listed under the ballot measure include freeway and connector improvements, addition of carpool lanes, extending a trolley line to Kearny Mesa, increasing trolley frequency, synchronizing traffic signals and separating road and rail grades so vehicles don’t have to stop for trains.

Though, really hurting the chances:

The measure created odd bedfellows, uniting environmental groups and some Republicans against the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and several Democratic elected officials.

* * *

The local Republican and Democratic parties along with a coalition of about two dozen environmental groups, labor unions and transit advocates opposed Measure A, albeit on divergent grounds.

Environmentalists and other advocates of mass transit said both SANDAG’s long-range transportation plan and the ballot measure should do more to boost bus, trolley, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Result:

Measure A, the half-cent sales tax to fund public transit and freeway projects in the county, fell short of the needed two-thirds vote.

With most votes counted as of 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, the measure had received support from only about 57 percent of voters in the region.

— Sacramento and Placer Counties, CA:

In yet another California proposal:

The Sacramento tax would raise an estimated $3.6 billion over 30 years to finance major fixes and upgrades throughout the county, starting with filling potholes and repaving rutted streets.
* * *

Sacramento Regional Transit, which operates buses and light-rail trains throughout much of the county, also would be required to spend 75 percent of its tax allocation in the first five years on shoring up basic operations, such as replacing buses, doing maintenance, upgrading stations and improving security.

The measure also would provide money to advance several major county projects, including a $700 million widening of the Capital City Freeway between midtown and Interstate 80 near Watt Avenue, the region’s most congested freeway. Other projects include widening Grant Line Road into an expressway, and a light-rail extension to Natomas and the airport.

Result:

Measure B, the proposed half-cent transportation sales tax in Sacramento County, fell short of the two-thirds support it needed to pass.

With all precincts accounted for early Wednesday, the measure had just shy of 65 percent approval. It needed to top two-thirds, or 67 percent, to pass.

A similar transportation tax measure in Placer County, Measure M, had won nearly 64 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting, but it also needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

— San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, CA (BART):

One more California proposal:

Measure RR asked voters in the BART district — San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties — to increase their property taxes by an average of $35 to $55 a year to help pay for an overhaul of the 44-year-old (BART) transit system.

* * *

Measure RR, unlike most transportation tax measures, lacked marquee projects like a new extension, a new station or a second Transbay Tube. Instead, it featured a collection of decidedly unsexy projects, including replacing 90 miles of original rail, waterproofing San Francisco subway stations, rebuilding the electrical equipment that delivers power to the tracks and trains, and replacing the original train control system.

The plan also called for money to refurbish train yards, maintenance shops and stations, including replacing escalators and elevators.

Result:

The Bay Area’s regional transit agency is set to receive a major boost in funding after voters Tuesday appear to have passed a $3.5 billion bond to bolster BART.

— Virginia Beach, VA:

The proposal:

The question read: “Should City Council of Virginia Beach spend local funds to extend Light Rail from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach?”

The extension would have added three new stations.

This was a non-binding referendum on extending Norfolk’s Tide Rail into Virginia Beach.

Result:

The voters of Virginia Beach have spoken: They overwhelmingly don’t want light rail.

No: 57 percent.

Yes: 43 percent.

— Charleston, SC:

Proposal:

. . . half-cent sales tax increase, raising the total sales tax rate in the county to 9 percent. The additional tax will raise $2.1 billion to fund mass transit, road improvements and more greenspace.

* * *

More than half the money will be spent on about a dozen road projects, including the widening of S.C. Highway 41 and Dorchester Road. About $600 million will go to the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority to improve its fleet of buses and develop the area’s first bus rapid transit system. 

Result:

Passed. 

— Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb Counties, MI (Detroit area):

Proposal:

The heart of the RTA master plan was bus rapid transit, with lines on Woodward, Gratiot, Michigan and Washtenaw avenues. BRT, with its limited stops, fixed stations and buses running often in dedicated lines, designed to provide a faster trip and give a sense of permanence approaching that of light rail. But the master plan also added expanded local bus service, premium express service to Detroit Metro Airport from the various counties, commuter express routes as well as more paratransit and on-demand options and commuter rail connecting Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The plan was designed to address the kinds of structural problems inherent in the story of marathon commuter James Robertson, Detroit’s walking man. The plan would not merge the Detroit Department of Transportation and Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, but it would prevent communities from opting out as many do with SMART.

Result:

The Regional Transit Authority millage appears to have been defeated, with unofficial vote tallies for all but one precinct in the four-county area where it was proposed.

The tax appears to have failed by about 18,000 votes.

Voters in Wayne and Washtenaw counties supported the tax, approving it 359,244 to 322,447, and 93,994 to 73,270, respectively. It fell short, by 1,109 votes in Oakland county, where the tally was 293,510 against and 292,401 in support. But, the opposition was greatest in Macomb county, with a vote of 222,806 no to 148,159 yes.

— King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties, WA (Seattle):

Proposal:

The $54 billion Sound Transit 3 ballot measure would add 37 stations and 62 miles of light rail by 2041, and extend bus and commuter-train lines. It is among the largest transit proposals in U.S. history.

You can get more detail here.

Result:

Sound Transit 3, the $54 billion plan to finance light-rail, commuter-train and bus-line extensions over a quarter-century has passed, despite Pierce County voters’ rejection of the measure.

The measure also known as Proposition 1, was logging 58 percent approval in King County on Wednesday and 51 percent in Snohomish County. In Pierce County, 56 percent of voters were rejecting the tax proposal. Overall, in the three-county Sound Transit district, 54 percent were voting to approve.

— Kansas City, MO:

In one of the stranger proposals, a voter initiative was on the Kansas City ballot:

This was Chastain’s ninth Kansas City petition initiative in 20 years, and all but one of those failed with voters. The one that passed in 2006 did not involve a tax increase and instead reallocated an existing bus tax. The Kansas City Council repealed the measure, calling it unworkable.

This time, Chastain proposed a 40-mile light-rail and electric bus system from KCI to the Cerner Corp. campus near Bannister Road with an east-west spur from Union Station to Arrowhead Stadium.

To help pay the estimated $2 billion cost, he sought voter approval for two new sales taxes totaling three-eighths of a cent, starting in 2017 for 25 years. He also proposed redirecting an existing three-eighths-cent sales tax from the buses to his system for 25 years, starting in 2024. 

And the proposer did not even live in Kansas City:

Chastain had a website, KCLightRail.org, but no campaign committee or funding. He moved out of Kansas City in 2001 and did little campaigning from his home in Bedford, Va.

Result, not surprisingly:

With nearly all precincts reporting, Kansas City voters opposed Chastain’s latest vision for a light-rail system from Kansas City International Airport to south Kansas City. The margin was 60 percent against versus 40 percent in favor of the plan, in unofficial results.

— New Jersey:

The proposal:

On its face, ballot question 2 asked voters to protect the new revenue from future raids, ensuring it goes to road, bridge and mass transit projects. It also protects some existing revenues not already constitutionally dedicated. Less obvious is that it also allows the state to finance $12 billion for transportation.

The state expects to collect $1.16 billion a year from the new gasoline tax, $31.1 million a year from increased taxes on non-motor fuels, and $39.6 million a year from a diesel surcharge.

Result:

New Jersey voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment dedicating gas tax proceeds to transportation projects, locking in more than $1 billion a year in new revenue from the recently enacted 23 cent gas tax.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida . . .

– Broward County/Cities, FL:

Finally, Broward County had a vote that has some lessons for us.  The proposal:

A proposed increase in the sales tax in Broward County failed Tuesday when voters said they’d support a tax for transportation improvements but not for city infrastructure.

The taxes were entwined; if one failed, neither would be enacted.

Had they passed, the sales tax in Broward County would have increased from 6 percent to 7 percent, or 7 cents on the dollar. But with the mixed voting results, the tax will remain as is. It was the fourth sales tax referendum to fail in Broward since the 1980s.

* * *

Because of the support in Broward on Tuesday for the transportation tax, though, it likely won’t be the last attempt.

* * *

City officials didn’t trust the county to disburse the money from a transportation tax, so they added their infrastructure tax to the ballot because it would flow directly to them.

With the defeat, the county’s plans to improve bus service, make sidewalks and school zones safer, and build a light rail system will be shelved.

In other words, there was a county proposal and a city-tax proposal that were tied together.  Basically, a general cluster.

Plans for the infrastructure tax were spread out in 31 cities’ lists of projects that didn’t equate to the cities’ projected surtax income. Pembroke Pines was projected to receive $540.3 million over 30 years, for example. Its plans showed $179 million in projects. Hollywood was expected to get $495.5 million. Its plans listed $1.9 billion in work.

The county side of the tax also was difficult to decipher.

A full 82 percent would have been spent on operations and maintenance, mostly of bus and light rail systems. Lists of projects contained sparse details, with little financial information. A “transit surtax funding plan” showed that even with the tax, the county would face a $198 million deficit in its transit budget over 30 years. And traffic light synchronization was promised, even though county traffic engineers said the light timing already is optimized and any technological improvements wouldn’t make a discernible difference.

Some voters said they thought transportation and infrastructure need improving, but they weren’t sold on this tax.

“If they were more competent about what they were doing, I would have voted yes,” said 67-year-old marble sculptor Andrew Recupero in Plantation.

“Everything is about how you sell it to somebody, and whether it’s believable,” said Mona Malbranche, a retired nurse in Tamarac. “It wasn’t believable.”

Apparently, the cities out-smarted themselves. This is one reason why we are not sold on the city-tax idea. It has the potential for all sorts of issues, and not just in the first stage, but after that.  We need a real comprehensive plan that people will buy into.

Conclusion

The results were mixed, but overall most of referenda, not just what we highlighted, passed nationwide (above 65% of them including what we listed and a number more).   The results were not determined by red state or blue state.  And there is not a clear line about starting new systems or expanding. Some proposals that were new ideas got approved; some expansions were rejected – and vice versa.

And it is worth noting the muddle in Broward, where it actually passed in the county.

Once again, transit, and rail in particular, is simply not a partisan issue.  And there is no broad-based rejection of transit – on the contrary.  The real key is the quality of the vision and the plan.

We just don’t know if local officials here are paying attention.

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