Press "Enter" to skip to content

SamTrans Adopts Goal to Widen Highways With Sales Tax

Photo: Alec MacDonald

Just two weeks after announcing a public outreach campaign to solicit input on the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans)’s “Get Us Moving” half-cent sales tax proposal, on December 6 the agency’s Board of Directors signed off on a list of seven goals the tax would aim to achieve by funding various transportation projects. The first goal, “Relieve Traffic Congestion Countywide,” gives the agency an excuse to use the tax to widen Highway 101 and Bayfront Expressway with more traffic lanes and bigger interchanges. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) used the same strategy to create a $1.85 billion highway expansion program out of its “Envision Silicon Valley” sales tax in 2016.

“These goals were developed and refined in consultation with employers around the county, community leaders, city and county staff, transportation advocates, and many other public and community officials,” said SamTrans Chief Communications Officer Seamus Murphy at the meeting. “These will be used to evaluate and prioritize investments in transportation solutions in an effort to create an expenditure plan.”

SamTrans has already publicly stated that it intends to fund the $534 billion Caltrans project to widen 14 miles of Highway 101 in San Mateo County from 8 to 10 lanes with new toll lanes using some of the revenues from the proposed sales tax. The agency, whose employees also work for Caltrain and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (SMCTA), which is pushing to spend $3 billion on highway expansion projects, mostly interchange expansions along Highway 101. Expanding bus service in San Mateo County, on the other hand, is a rather lower priority, with bus ridership still steadily dropping for decades.

Here are the seven adopted goals for the proposed Get Us Moving Sales Tax:

  • Relieve Traffic Congestion Countywide
  • Invest in a Financially Sustainable Public Transportation System that:
    – Increases Ridership
    – Provides Quality Transit Options for Everyone
    – Embraces Innovation to Create More Transportation Choices and Improved Travel Experience
    – Aligns with the SamTrans Business Plan
  • Prioritize Environmentally Sustainable Transportation Solutions
  • Promote Economic Vitality and Economic Development
  • Maximize Opportunities to Leverage Investment from Public and Private Partners
  • Enhance Safety and Public Health
  • Invest in Repair and Maintenance of Existing and Future Infrastructure

While not a single member of the Board of Directors commented on the goals at the meeting, members of the public in attendance had plenty to say.

“I’m opposed to the county sales tax being used for any highway expansion,” said resident Jeffrey Tong. “Pick up a bike or get on SamTrans [bus]. “Let’s invest in the people, not in the car.”

“What those projects do is add more car traffic to our highways, increase air pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions,” said I Walk I Bike I Vote Director Andrew Boone. “Investing more into bus service and safe and accessible bicycle and pedestrian transit networks is the focus that we need to have.”

“I want to support the goals of increasing sustainable transportation and reducing single occupant driving as the fundamental way to reduce congestion,” said Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin.

“We fully support the [Get Us Moving] goals, particularly the strong emphasis on improving public transportation and other space-efficient sustainable mobility options and traffic reduction strategies,” said TransForm Senior Community Planner Chris Lepe.

“No new Vehicle Miles Traveled,” said resident Adam Cozzette. “If we go with this principle we’ll end up with projects that are more cost-effective and safer for all modes.”

While SamTrans staff have promised that the sales tax outreach effort would include “public events, town halls, community meetings, and other forums,” no such meetings have yet been scheduled. SamTrans is soliciting lists of projects to be considered for funding with the tax until December 20, but only from cities and the county, not the general public.