While San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) officials deny that any decisions have been made on what the agency’s “Get Us Moving” $81 million annual sales tax will pay for, signs abound that highway traffic expansions are high on the priority list. Critics of bundling highway money and funds for transit and active transportation improvements into a single tax call it “extortion”, forcing voters to accept wasteful and environmentally damaging highway expansions along with transit, bicycling, and walking improvements.
Recently passed 30-year transportation sales tax in the Bay Area have included large percentages of revenues for highway expansions – 29 percent of Santa Clara County’s 2016 Measure B, 19 percent of Alameda County’s 2014 Measure BB. San Mateo County’s existing 1/2-cent transportation sales tax, the 2004 Measure A, allocates 27.5 percent of revenues to highway projects. Sustainability advocates are asking that no highway capacity expansion projects or projects that will induce new motorized trips be funded by the proposed 2018 San Mateo County transportation sales tax. Several other sources of highway funding are already available, including the new April 2017 Senate Bill 1 gas tax and the likely 2018 Regional Measure 3.
$75 million is now available for highway projects from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA)’s 2004 Measure A. Highway projects are also already funded with tens of millions are dollars annually from the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), among other sources. Meanwhile, the county’s bus system languishes as a barebones, barely-useful network of slow buses, and bicycle and walking networks are laughably circuitous, disconnected, and plainly hazardous. The county must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 to meet the 2016 Paris Agreements, which building more lanes on highways and bigger highway interchanges directly undermines.
One way to seemingly ensure that the 2018 San Mateo County sales tax leaves highway expansion projects is out is to simply leave SMCTA out, because SMCTA will want to fund a $1.5 billion bloated backlog of highway projects. If the tax revenue is distributed to SamTrans, Caltrain, the cities, and the county, then it is more likely be directed into effective transit, bicycling, and walking improvements.
County officials insist decisions on funding allocations and governance have not yet been made, and will only be made after robust community review and input. SamTrans is expected to being presenting their Get Us Moving sales tax at city council meetings soon, but has not yet released a schedule of meetings.