After a disastrous second Measure A Highway Program Call For Projects in 2012 in which several highway expansion projects busted their budgets by more than $10 million each, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA) Board of Directors attached some new strings to their money at their October 5 meeting. Cities wishing to tap into a total of $75 million available for highway expansion projects countywide will now have come up with ten percent of the project’s total cost in matching funds, “to help to further leverage constrained Measure A funds.”
The ten percent matching funds, which will total a few million dollars for most highway projects, can come from other grant sources or the city’s own funds. SMCTA staff provided a list of potential grant sources cities can pursue in their agenda report.
SMCTA’s Highway Program, funded with revenue from 27.5 percent of the county’s 2004 Measure A half-cent sales tax, has doled out hundred of millions of dollars on highway projects that have expanded interchanges and widened highways with new lanes. But cities could qualify for funding without putting up any of their own money, leading to budget-busting interchange reconstruction projects including Broadway & Highway 101 in Burlingame ($91 million) and Willow Road & Highway 101 ($76 million). SMCTA hopes that by forcing cities to “put skin in the game” they’ll be able to avoid any more budget overruns in tens of millions of dollars range, which has drained the agency’s coffers and forced it to scale back its highway expansion ambitions.
Brand new highway projects, such as the proposed 12-lane mega-interchange on Highway 101 at an extension of Geneva Avenue, would face additional scrutiny if and when they apply for SMCTA funds. For new highway projects, the matching funds required “are proportionate to the impacts from additional traffic generated from the new land use developments that are generating the need for the new highway facilities.” SMCTA staff would determine any matching funds required beyond ten percent for such facilities “on a case-by-case basis.”
$10 million dollars of the estimated $500 million to-be-generated from now until 2029 when the Measure A sales tax expires was also set aside by the Board “to assist with the planning and environmental phases of work for projects that are not already in the Measure A funding pipeline.” An “incubator” of highway projects!
These new baby highway projects could be partly funded by San Mateo County’s Measure A and by a number of state and federal sources, including California 2017 Senate Bill 1 gasoline tax hike and car registration fees hike, which is the target of a November 2018 repeal effort led by state Senate Republican Travis Allen.
With or without Senate Bill 1, San Mateo County’s Measure A is expected to pump another $500 million into highway expansions over the next 12 years. Sadly the agency has banned highway projects that “primarily” improve safety for people walking or bicycling as ineligible for Highway Program funding, such as ped/bike paths along highways and ped/bike bridges over highways. The agency has unnecessarily maintained a strict “motorized traffic only” interpretation of the Measure A Highway Program – any money spent must benefit and only benefit motorized traffic. Safety advocates have disputed this interpretation since 2015.