News

Pollution, housing, lost trade part of traffic-congestion fight

As all Californians know, this state has some of the worst traffic
congestion in the nation. According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s
2005 Urban Mobility Report, drivers in the Los Angeles-Orange County region
suffer the most hours of delay per traveler in the nation. The San
Francisco-Oakland area ranks second worst, with Riverside-San Bernardino,
San Jose, and San Diego also in the top-12 most congested areas.

Our current congestion is the consequence of several factors, including
under investment in transportation infrastructure, dramatic growth in the
goods-movement industry, and the lack of affordable housing near job
centers.

Historically, California has financed transportation projects with an
18-cent-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. This tax, known
as the “gas tax,” has not been raised since 1990 and has lost much of its
value to inflation. This year, for the first time, gas-tax revenues will be
insufficient to cover our most basic highway-rehabilitation needs, let alone
fund new projects. While voters approved Proposition 42 in 2002 to dedicate
the sales tax on gasoline to transportation projects, this money has not
made up for the lost value of the excise tax on gas and has been suspended
on numerous occasions to help address the state’s ongoing budget deficit.

In addition to under investment in infrastructure, the volume of goods
passing through our ports has increased exponentially, and the trucks
carrying these goods to distribution centers and markets in California and
beyond are adding congestion along key highway corridors. In 2004,
containerized waterborne trade through California’s ports accounted for 39.6
percent of the national total, up from 32.5 percent in 1994 and 28.5 percent
in 1984.

Finally, the rising cost of housing in job-rich urban centers has pushed
working families to the urban edge in search of affordable housing. The
median home price in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area regions, the
two most congested regions in the nation, are approximately $568,500 and
$752,830, above the statewide median of $564,430 and well above the national
median of about $218,000. Moving even farther from job centers increases the
number of miles commuters drive daily, exacerbating congestion, harming the
environment, and reducing time spent at work, with family, or enjoying
recreation.

These regions with the worst congestion also have some of the worst air
quality in the nation. All of these regions are classified as non-attainment
areas, failing to meet federal air-quality standards for at least one of the
following pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. The
health impacts of these pollutants are numerous, and include decreased lung
function and asthma in children, lung cancer, and premature death.

As chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, my goal is
to get California moving again while also moving our transportation system
toward zero emissions.

The Legislature has approved a number of measures that target infrastructure
investment to enhance mobility, increase housing affordability, and improve
air quality: SCA 7 (Perata) protects the sales tax on gasoline for
transportation purposes; SB 1266 (Perata) authorizes the sale of $19.93
billion worth of bonds for transportation purposes; and SB 1689 (Perata)
will generate $2.85 billion for housing. These initiatives will appear on
the November ballot.

I am particularly proud of our efforts to include in the transportation bond
the first-ever funding dedicated to facilitate goods movement, with an
additional $1 billion to reduce air pollution along California’s trade
corridors. Additionally, the housing bond provides $850 million in
incentives for local governments to approve infill housing so that more
housing is available closer to where people work.

As we keep Californians on the move with infrastructure investment, it is
critical to ensure that we are creating a “green” transportation system that
yields zero emissions and reduces our dependence on oil. My policy agenda
includes promoting clean technologies such as vehicles that run on
alternative fuels, electric and magnetic levitation rail systems for goods
movement, and the electrification of ports that allow marine vessels and
trucks to “plug in” for power instead of idling their engines.

On the flipside of promoting clean technologies, we must hold polluters
accountable for the emissions they do produce. I have authored SB 760 to
impose a $30 fee on each shipping container processed at the ports of Los
Angeles and Long Beach for rail-system improvements, port security and
environmental-pollution mitigation. I have also authored SB 764 to impose
fines on the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, beginning in 2010, if they
fail to reduce emissions below specified levels.

By increasing investment in our transportation infrastructure, building
housing near job centers, and promoting cleaner technologies for
transportation, we will increase mobility and create a cleaner, healthier
environment that protects and sustains California’s economic competitiveness
and quality of life long into the future.


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