By Toni G. Atkins | Assembly Speaker
Taxing road wear
Our state highways and bridges and our local streets and roads are in serious disrepair and it’s impacting all of us, from how much we pay to maintain our cars and how much personal time we lose sitting in traffic, to how much our economy is losing every day to reduced productivity.
More than 40 percent of all state highway lanes are considered to be in less than good condition, and 16 percent — about 8,000 miles worth — are severely distressed and in need of major rehabilitation. As our economy continues to improve, more people are on the move, meaning more cars are on the roads, resulting in more wear-and-tear and more congestion.
Peak-commute motorists in San Diego waste 75 hours a year sitting in traffic, according to a TomTom study reported by NBC San Diego. And all that extra exhaust worsens air quality, which makes us less healthy and hastens the climate change that we’re working so hard to fight.
Fixing it all now would cost far more than $100 billion. The California Transportation Commission says the price tag will reach nearly $300 billion over the next 10 years. Everyone — Democrats and Republicans alike — agree we have a big problem.
How has it gotten this way?
Since the 1920s, we’ve mostly paid for transportation-system maintenance with taxes on gasoline. That used to work: People who used the road bought gas and paid for upkeep by paying federal and state taxes on a gallon of gas.
The state taxes on gasoline that pay for transportation haven’t kept pace with inflation and because some are tied to the price of gasoline, they even went down this summer. As a result, projects up and down the state are at risk of delayed funding.
Furthermore, a tax on gas is a dwindling resource, thanks to our efforts to fight climate change. Our vehicles are becoming increasingly fuel-efficient and we’re buying less gasoline. That means we’re collecting less in gas taxes, which means the state will have less and less money for the upkeep of our streets and highways. As a group, we won’t be driving less, so the need to maintain the infrastructure will increasingly outpace our ability to pay for it.
The method we’re using to collect funds to rehabilitate our roads and highways can no longer keep up with the demand of our state’s crumbling infrastructure. Instead, we need to modernize how we’re collecting transportation funding in order to fix this 21st century issue.
The Legislature has convened a special session to tackle this problem. The task is to identify a logical source of funding for ongoing road and highway maintenance that is fair and sustainable. Everyone who drives a car will likely be asked to pay a little bit more, but it will be less than it costs to repair the damage done to our cars by our poor roadways.
It will also be good for the economy, because companies and workers will be more productive, and every dollar invested in transportation infrastructure produces $5.20 in economic benefits, and every $1 billion that gets spent on transportation infrastructure leads to roughly 18,000 additional jobs.
In more ways than one, fixing our roads and highways will help get San Diego and California moving.
Around the District: After Pride did its part to fix the drought, I toweled off and was happy to be part of the — thankfully dry — ceremony to welcome Panama City as San Diego’s newest Sister City. While he was in San Diego, Mayor Jose Isabel Blandón invited Mayor Kevin Faulconer and me to Panama City in the spring to help Panamanians celebrate the expansion of the Panama Canal. That project is expected to dramatically increase economic development in Panama — and possibly San Diego, too, as more products make their way through the canal and north into our port … Proud to have met Cpl. Evander Deocariza at our very rainy Pride. The young Marine carried the transgender flag for the military contingent and had just come out to his command that week. He told the Los Angeles Times he just wants to “set an example of what a transgender person can be like — a good Marine.” I was impressed with him and he is well on his way … Please mark Aug. 15 on your calendars. That’s when animal shelters in San Diego and throughout our county will host “Clear the Shelters” day, with waived and reduced fees to find as many homes as possible for dogs, cats and all shelter animals. Watch NBC San Diego’s Facebook page for more details.
—Toni G. Atkins is the Speaker of the California State Assembly. For more information, please visit her website, asmdc.org/speaker where you can sign up for her e-newsletter or get the latest news on legislation and other activities. You also may follow her on Twitter, @toniatkins.