You may be sick of me discussing transportation in the Valley, but please bear with me for a few more minutes. Reducing traffic and improving our transit infrastructure are worth it, and the story here is about playing politics instead of actually improving our lives.
Earlier this year, the California State Legislature made a bold move to improve our roads. They passed an increase to the gas tax – the first increase in years – and in vehicle registration fees. I don’t really need to tell you how necessary it is to improve San Fernando Valley freeways. But in case you need a refresher, let’s be clear: the movement of people and goods is essential to the economic vitality and quality of life in California.
Despite having the largest and most complex transportation system in the nation, California’s roads are crumbling due to insufficient funding for maintenance and repairs. We’re paying the price for deficient roads in the form of additional vehicle maintenance costs, loss of time and car accidents which cost lives.
For years, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association has pushed the Legislature to pass a comprehensive transportation funding reform package. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, the California Road Repair and Accountability Act. When Gov. Jerry Brown signed this bill, I felt a surge of optimism that we’ll finally see a real improvement in our roads.
I probably should have known better. This victory for California may be short-lived. In a cynical attempt to increase voter turnout in next year’s general election and protect their slim majority in the House of Representatives, Congressional Republicans are seeking to place a measure on the ballot to repeal SB 1 and stall our progress.
SB 1 is a sensible plan to repair, enhance and build California’s transportation infrastructure. Raising the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees, along with other dedicated funding streams, will generate an additional $5 billion a year for roads. We have a multi-billion-dollar backlog in infrastructure improvement and SB 1 will help.
We have a lot to gain in the Valley from SB 1 investments. A recent study found that Los Angeles has 10 of the 25 worst traffic hotspots in the nation, costing L.A. drivers an estimated $91 billion over the next 10 years in wasted time, lost fuel and carbon emissions. Valley residents are familiar with the culprits: the 405, 101, 134, 170 and 5 freeways.
We can leverage funds from SB 1, coupling those funds with new revenue from Metro’s Measure M to make real progress on reducing traffic. We can expedite local projects like the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor. In fact, Metro recently announced that it will solicit public-private partnership opportunities to expedite the construction of a Sepulveda Pass transit project. Now, more than ever, we are close to increasing connectivity and mobility and reducing congestion.
SB 1’s modest gas tax increase is a reasonable, effective solution to finance road maintenance and repair. The savings we would see on our car maintenance bills and the time not spent in traffic will offset the increased fees. Less traffic will also increase our productivity and keep growing our local economy.
As business owners and employers, we need to urge the people playing politics with our economic future to back off, and let us improve our traffic woes.
Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state and federal levels of government.