Two pieces of legislation aimed at allowing voters to decide if they want to pay more to cross a bridge and to purchase a range of items to fund transportation projects and Caltrain operations were signed by the governor Tuesday.
Proponents of the two bills suggest the improvements are needed to ensure congestion in this area does not get worse, but it comes amidst a growing number of measures that aim to increase revenue from taxpayers and the general public.
Senate Bill 595, authored by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, aims to ask voters in nine Bay Area counties to raise tolls at most Bay Area bridges by $3 to raise $4.4 billion that would significantly expand ferry service and provide funds for new BART and Muni vehicles as well as pedestrian and bicycle projects. It will also help fund the Caltrain extension to the Transbay Terminal as well as ease other traffic congestion woes, proponents suggest.
Senate Bill 797, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, allows the Caltrain Board of Directors to place a measure on the ballot asking for a sales tax of no more than one-eighth-cents before voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. That proposal is expected to generate $100 million a year solely for Caltrain and remedy ongoing woes over uneven funding by the three counties.
“Today we are one step closer to allowing the public to decide how they want to address traffic problems and improvements along the Caltrain corridor,” Hill said in a prepared statement. “Our region is an economic powerhouse for our state and the Caltrain corridor is its major transportation artery. If our residents cannot get back and forth to work, school and their families because our main transportation corridor cannot accommodate them, we jeopardize the health of our robust economy and our quality of life.”
The two measures come on the heels of another piece of legislation authored by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, Assembly Bill 1613, signed by the governor Sept. 11. That bill will allow the San Mateo County Transit District to seek a half-cent sales tax hike that could produce $82 million a year but potentially go toward a much broader swath of still undecided transportation projects.
On a larger scale, in June, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is expected to proceed with Regional Measure 3, now allowed with the governor’s signature Tuesday, by asking voters in nine Bay Area counties to raise bridge tolls. With the MTC and nearly a dozen Bay Area legislators resolved to promote RM3 next year, it will soon be up to Caltrain and SamTrans officials to decide which local sales tax hike should proceed first.
But with gas taxes increasing 12 cents a gallon this November and Bay Area voters probably considering RM3 in June, a balance of when and how to promote a more locally-controlled funding mechanism will be needed. Caltrain is operated by a joint powers agreement and supported in part by the three counties’ financial contributions which could instead be covered by the proposed sales tax.
Caltrain has embarked on drafting a new business plan that will hopefully identify priorities such as service level goals, what types of infrastructure improvements are needed and how much it could cost. Officials note the dedicated tri-county eighth-cent sales tax could be a principle funding source. That planning process is expected to wrap up at the end of next year, officials said.
“As one of the only transit systems in the state without a dedicated source of funding, this bill is critical to supporting our efforts to upgrade Caltrain service so we can meet the evolving mobility demands of our growing region,” Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett said in a prepared statement. “The Caltrain electrification project that is currently under construction will provide us with the potential to dramatically increase rail service to Caltrain communities, and SB 797 provides the opportunity to invest in that potential to truly meet the long term needs of the region.”