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$200 billion for transit funding on US ballot 10 Nov 2016

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

Beyond electing the next President of the United States, and its stunning success for President-Elect Donald Trump, voters across America were also asked to vote on measures to raise local property or sales taxes and/or issue government bonds to support an estimated $200 billion for investment in public transit projects across the country.

Fig 1. A total of 77  measures were on ballots in 2016
Fig 1. A total of 77 measures were on ballots in 2016
Fig 2. 49 of the measures were on the 8 November ballot
Fig 2. 49 of the measures were on the 8 November ballot

Both candidates for the highest office in the land supported increased investment in public infrastructure during their presidential campaigns and APTA, the American Public Transportation Association, is preparing to share its perspective and expertise with the government transition team in coming months to build on the pledge of support for public transit investment.

That work will start and be based on the success of more than 69% of the 77 measures voted on in 2016 in 25 States of the country of raising local taxpayer-funding in support specifically for the improvement and expansion of public bus services, tram systems and metro and commuter rail systems (Fig 1).

Similar to a referendum process, this is the highest ever number of measures, the highest number of States, and the greatest amount of taxpayer funding ever to be included for transit funding measures on a US ballot. All local funding measures on the ballot totalled a much greater dollar amount. The estimated $200 billion asked of votes to raise taxpayer funding will support public transit projects include underground infrastructure for metro rail extensions, significantly in Seattle and Los Angeles where Sound Transit and the LA Metro are currently working on phases of new underground subway lines and have more in the planning. Current projects are progressing as a direct result of previous ballot measure successes. This is a fact that holds promise for the outcome of the measures on the ballot this year, providing the voters go to the polls and cast a ballot for each measure. Measures across the country were prepared to raise billions form local proposals to increase taxation vehicles. These include Los Angeles ($120 billion), Seattle ($54 billion), San Diego ($7.5 billion); San Francisco ($3.5 billion), Santa Clara County, California ($3 billion); Atlanta, Georgia ($2.5 billion), and Columbus, Ohio ($620 million).

According to research by APTA, an association of 1,500 public and private organizations engaged in providing public transportation and the public transit riders who take 10.6 billion trips a year, public transit ballot initiatives since 2000 have passed by an average of more than 70%. This indicates, explains APTA, the importance of local and state funding to current transit plans, when in the past federal government funding from Washington DC was the principal source of funding.

“The days of 80% funding from the Federal Government for transportation projects are long gone,” explained APTA Acting President and CEO Richard White in a webinar conference on Thursday 3 Nov 2016. “It is now more like 50/50 or even less in ratio between Federal grants and the balance, that must be matched by local funds.”

Of the 77 measures on the ballot this year, 28 have been processed in ‘offline’ referenda and of the 48 measures on the 8 November election day ballot 33 or 69% were approved based on unofficial election results and with the result of one measure yet to be announced.

The success rate demonstrates that voters continue their legacy of strong support for local investment in transit options and follows a growing trend in the number of measures annually, and an understanding among local taxpayers that ballots powerful methods of meeting funding needs.

"This remarkable passage rate for public transportation measures sends a strong message to President-elect Donald Trump and to Congress that Americans support moving forward with funding from all levels of government for infrastructure investment," said APTA Acting President and CEO Richard A. White.

Jason Jordan, Executive Director of the Center for Transportation Excellence, said: " Clearly, taxpayers and communities recognize the economic, social, health, and environmental benefits that transit can provide and are willing to support and invest in its expansion and maintenance."

During a media conference call at the APTA Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in September, 2016, Peter Rogoff, CEO, Sound Transit, Seattle said: "Fast-growing regions like the Puget Sound have only two choices when facing dramatic population growth and rapidly worsening congestion. They can plan and build for it or be completely overwhelmed by it. The ST3 ballot will support construction of a 116-mile light rail network and expanded commuter rail." Phillip Washington, CEO of LA Metro said: "If we are to create modern mobility and provide transportation options for ourselves and for future generations, we must remain fiscally responsible. That's why Measure M for County traffic improvement is on the 8 November ballot.”

"For the past 44 years," stated Grace Crunican, General Manager of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, "BART has been the back bone of the region's growth– connecting people to opportunities every single day. But the system is aging and cannot support the 364,000 added jobs and 210,000 new homes the region expects within one-half mile of our stations by 2040 unless we reinvest in the BART system. We now have a strong plan funded by a proposed $3.5 billion bond to make BART safer and more reliable, which will in turn reduce traffic in the decades to come."

Curtis Stitt, President and CEO, of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in Columbus, explained that: "During the ten years since the ¼% sales tax was approved, COTA has increased its service hours by 80% and its ridership has reached levels not seen in 30 years. It is unfortunate that every few years the Authority has to go back to the voters to maintain its local resources. However, I believe our financial and operational performance throughout the ten-year period since this ¼% sales tax was approved warrants its renewal by central Ohio voters."

Jeannie Bruins, Los Altos Mayor and VTA Vice Chairperson, reflected on the power of the voters in funding projects. "Forty years ago, Santa Clara County was one of the first self-help counties in the US, where voters stepped up to the plate and helped provide the funding for needed transportation projects and services. To date, County voters have supported six ballot measures bringing in more than $8 billion dollars for services and a $21 billion capital program. Current polling seems to suggest strong support for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax on the November ballot. The measure would raise more than $6 billion to help fund an extension of the regional rail system, transit operations, and improvements to commuter rail capacity and safety. "

"The 69% success rate for the $200 billion in transit funding on the ballot this year will be a game changer for people and the communities in which projects will go ahead as a result," said White. "State and regional transit authorities have realized that they cannot wait for requests for funding allocations from Washington DC to move ahead with vital public transportation projects. They have taken the initiative to work the other way around. Secure local funding via local ballot measures and request matching allocations from the Federal Government. This approach has allowed many transit projects to progress in recent years."

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