By Steve Levy
I am Voting Yes on Measure B the Sales Tax for TransportationUploaded: Sep 24, 2016
Santa Clara County Measure B proposes a half-cent increase in the sale tax to raise approximately $6.3 billion for transportation investments over the next 30 years. The proposal includes $2.7 for improving our roads and interchanges and fixing potholes, $1.5 billion for a BART extension, $1 billion for Caltrain improvements and grade separation, $750 million for bike programs and programs for low income, senior and disabled residents and $350 million to study adding transit to Highway 85.
Long negotiations turned Measure B into a triple bottom line investment, good for the economy, the environment and equity.
The environmental benefits are easy to understand. Pollution and GHG emissions are reduced by taking some cars off the road and reducing delays and stop and go driving for the remaining drivers. Expanded public transit service also supports developments around transit stations that can reduce auto commuting and increase walking and biking.
The main economic impacts of Measure B proposals include cost savings to drivers and benefits to workers and companies from expanded access to jobs from increased public transportation capacity.
There is data to estimate the benefits to drivers. The cost savings for drivers fall into two main categories—1) money saved from reduced damage costs from bad roads and 2) time savings and reduced frustration from congestion and delays.
AAA estimates that nationally potholes cost drivers $300 a year and those costs must be higher here. There are over 1.3 million cars registered in Santa Clara County. If we only count 1 million cars, the annual savings from fixing potholes would be at least $300 million, which is more than annual Measure B spending over the 30 years of the tax. Measure B will provide a portion of these benefits.
The amount and cost of delays in our county are large and growing. Measure B will help drivers by allowing some of them to take transit and by improving interchanges and fixing potholes that contribute to more stop and go driving. The Texas Transportation Institute tracks delay data for 101 urban areas including the San Jose metro area—Santa Clara County. Their latest data is for 2014 though it must be worse now given the strong job growth in 2015 and 2016.
In 2014 the average commuter here spent 67 hours stuck in traffic up from 59 in 2010. And the annual cost of delay was $1,422 up from $1,253 in 2010. The cost of delay for all commuters was $2.2 billion in 2014, the largest delay time and highest cost per commuter for comparable size areas in the nation. Measure B will help reduce delays.
The remaining funds go to improving non car transportation options. Most of these programs help take potential drivers off the road, improving their choices but also reducing congestion for the remaining drivers.
Other economic impacts are real but harder to measure. These include better access to jobs for workers and better access to workers for employers. The two recruitment challenges most mentioned by employers are the high cost of housing and long auto commutes that make it harder to attract workers. Expanded public transportation options on BART and Caltrain improve connections between employees and employers. They also provide incentives for development around stations that improve job, housing and shopping access.
Even though I have never driven (my eyesight makes me unsafe to drive), I find the cost and time savings for people who do drive a compelling economic argument in support of Measure B. And that goes on top of the other economic, environmental and equity benefits of the proposed Measure B projects.