Transit and highway funding intrinsically linked to state goals

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OPINION – In lean budget times like this year, state leaders must make difficult choices about what programs and projects to fund, and what is on the chopping block. What often gets lost in these sometimes forced “either-or” choices is the fact that some investments are not just symbolic – they are inextricably linked. Take for example, transit and highway and road funding – ultimately both serve the goal of getting more Californians, and the goods and services we consume, where they need to go as efficiently as possible. At the end of the day, they are part of the same complex web to reach all corners of the state, whether it’s by walking, biking, mass transit, state highways, local streets and roads, or a combination of these modes. Transit without highways and roads is like a hammer without a nail.

The fact is, in a state of 40 million people that runs 900 miles from North to South and covers more than 163,000 square miles, safe, efficient, accessible transit options currently aren’t available to most Californians. For the millions of Californians that do utilize transit, the state highway and local street and road systems are a foundational part of that experience. Many people drive to “park and ride” their local transit and intercity rail systems. Others walk out of the front door and use sidewalks and bike lanes that are an essential aspect of local roads. The transit buses and light rail cars themselves – they drive on the highways and roads to get people to their destinations.  To make transit a real option for more Californians, the state needs to invest in transit infrastructure and operations to get more people where they need to go. But we also can’t ignore the crumbling highways, roads, and bridges that serve as the right-of-way for the very service itself.

To meet the state’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, the roadmap to get there must include investing in all modes of transportation to reduce emissions.

Voters in California also fundamentally understand the importance of growing our state’s road and transit infrastructure together to meet our growing needs. In 2018, voters reiterated their support for approximately $5.4 billion of ongoing funds annually to maintain, improve, and make safer California’s streets, roads, and bridges, relieve congestion, increase goods-movement, and provide more transit, bicycle and walking options.

Governor Newsom and the Legislature have also made clear that they want to expand investments in infrastructure to increase mobility options, improve safety of the traveling public, and support a robust economy. And with budget negotiations underway, it’s time to deliver on those promises.

California has set some of the most ambitious carbon-reduction goals in the country. To meet the state’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2045, the roadmap to get there must include investing in all modes of transportation to reduce emissions. Let’s not forget that zero-emission vehicles (personal cars, buses, and even heavy-duty freight trucks) need safe, efficient, and well-maintained roads to drive on too.

That’s why proposals which would shift funds from one pot to another are short-sighted and ill-advised.  In fact, pillaging voter-approved funding sources for highways and bridges will create more problems for our state without solving the lack of critical transit options. These proposals could also shortchange California from receiving badly needed federal funding for projects because they will jeopardize our ability to meet federal performance standards. We don’t need a shell game when it comes to building sustainable transportation infrastructure for the 4th largest economy in the world.

The fact is our state budget is an expression of our priorities. Time and again, Californians and our leaders have said those include improving the quality of life for all by creating safer and shorter commutes, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to achieve those goals is to invest in all modes of transportation.

Kiana Valentine is the Executive Director of Transportation California

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