They're Coming, So Build It
case you needed proof that Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't your
typical California governor, consider his 2005 State of
the State address. In the last decade, it has been de rigueur
for California politicians to denounce the very suggestion
that the state should build more roads, while piously putting
their faith in increased "investment" in public transit.
But this governor is a realist. "When I first came to California,
the roads fascinated me," Schwarzenegger told Sacramento
last month. "Californians can't get from place to place
on little fairy wings. This is a car-centered state. We
is more, the pro-asphalt politician also favors the free
market and is throwing his support behind proposals hatched
by the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation to build new
freeway lanes with private dollars.
Schwarzenegger for figuring out that lectures on the need
for light rail don't serve the public's transportation needs.
Like other politicians, Schwarzenegger wants Californians
to "spend less time sitting on the freeway" -- unlike the
rest, however, he understands that the only way to get there
is by building more roads and more freeway lanes.
is progress. In 2001, then-Gov. Gray Davis announced at
a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Foothill Freeway in Southern
California that he was presiding over the state's last freeway
ribbon-cutting. His transportation adviser boasted that
the era of California highway building was over.
little problem: Californians forgot to stop driving. Even
in the politically correct Bay Area, most people drive to
work; only a modest 7.3 percent take public transit during
rush hour, according to the Metropolitan Transportation
Commission. I can only figure that Bay Area voters have
supported spending on public transit projects because they
are deeply committed to the notion that other people should
take the bus or BART to work.
so what happens when the Bay Area population grows by 30
percent, to an expected 8.8 million, by 2030? If there are
more people but not more roads, the answer surely will be
folks at Reason believe that California has to look to the
marketplace for relief. Reason backs high-occupancy toll
lanes -- setting up tolls so that commuters can pay their
way onto high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Schwarzenegger already
has signed legislation to put HOT lanes on the Interstate
680 Sunol Grade between Alameda and Santa Clara counties.
While detractors dismiss HOTs as "Lexus lanes," the toll
lanes relieve congestion in the no-toll lanes as well.
also proposes privately built toll roads, including a toll
trucks-only route along Interstates 880 and 580 to span
the distance between the Port of Oakland and Tracy, with
a route toward the South Bay as well. Be it noted, however,
that a Reason report conceded that some state or federal
funding probably would be needed to make the project "financeable."
W. Poole is Reason's guru on HOT lanes. Poole finds himself
in the odd position of working with state government, even
though he is no big fan of government. "I've become more
pragmatic over time," he confessed recently. Then again,
Poole notes that he remembers that governments built freeways
to be "reliable and fast" -- and he wants to see that freeways
are reliable and fast again.
Boarnet, a planning professor at the University of California
at Irvine, noted that Reason has changed the way experts
look at transportation funding. "The state should look to
the private sector when the private sector can fill gaps,"
professor then added that the private sector can't fix everything.
More people will be using roads that have been aging and
need shoring up. It will take public dollars to fix the
where are those dollars to be found? Even though voters
approved Proposition 42, which required that the state spend
gas-tax revenue on transportation, Sacramento has been raiding
the fund to plug the budget deficit. As consumers buy more
fuel-efficient cars, they pay less in gas tax for each mile
they drive. Inflation also has eroded the state's 18-cents-per-gallon
tax, which hasn't been raised since 1994.
Sacramento solons are toying with the idea of putting a
meter in all state cars and taxing drivers by the miles
driven. Bad idea: It invades people's privacy, lessens the
incentive to buy fuel-efficient cars and requires a new
mechanism to troll for pennies on the mile.
the Reason approach works for new projects, Sacramento remains
short on funds to pay for maintenance. Schwarzenegger could
push for an increase in the state gasoline tax to fund needed
road improvements. And he might find that voters would favor
a higher gasoline tax if it meant no meters in their cars
and no "fairy wings" -- or new transit projects that produce
empty seats on buses and rails while drivers sit in gridlock
in their cars.
an old concept, but one reason people elect politicians
is so they'll fix the potholes.
2005 Creators Syndicate
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