People ask me how I'm voting on Measure L, the countywide half-cent sales tax measure for transportation.
Hands down, I'm in absolute favor of it.
Ordinarily I am one of those "hell no" voters against higher taxes and more government. But this I know: I own a car and travel on Stanislaus County roads a great deal. I know roads cost a lot of money. I know that our roads are not in good shape. In fact, Stanislaus County currently has the 20th worst roads in the country, according to StanCOG. I know our roads have not kept up with our population growth. I know that preventative maintenance is cheaper than waiting for a costlier repair in the future. I also know that Stanislaus County and its cities don't have enough money to keep up.
But, Jeff, you say, what about the gas tax money we already pay? Okay, what about it? We don't get much of it.
The state collects 28 cents per gallon of gas sold, which is paid on top of 18.4 cents Uncle Sam charges. Where does that 28 cents go? Seven pennies goes to pay down state bond debt. State highways and roads get 18 cents. Local roads (owned by cities and counties) get just three cents. Sixty percent goes to Southern California, 40 percent to the rest of the state. So get this, for every $136 you pay on average per year in gas taxes, Stanislaus County gets a whopping seven cents. If you break that seven cents down, you can see that any given of the nine cities get very little.
Also consider that when the state Board of Equalization reduced the state gas tax from 30 cents to 27.8 cents earlier this year, the state estimated its gas tax revenues would drop $328 million. This came at a time when gas prices dropped and thus lower tax revenues resulted from that.
Thus, this is one of the few tax measures I am willing to support. A selling point to me is that the state can't get its hands on the $960 million expected to be generated over the 25-year life of Measure L. For another thing, we know exactly where the money is going to be spent; each city and the county have outlined in excruciating detail where each dollar will be spent. Each city gets money to spend.
We need to pass the half-cent sales tax measure if we are going to continue to move ourselves and commerce. It's not an easy task in today's Valley economy, given that it must receive the support of 66 percent plus one vote for passage. But we all use those roads to get to work, to seek entertainment, to go shopping and do ordinary chores.
Not only will the tax generate money for pavement maintenance, it will help build some much-needed road construction projects. The city of Ceres will receive $30.7 million for the Mitchell/Service/Highway 99 interchange. It gives it the huge boost that is required to make the project a reality. Ceres will also benefit from the $17 million toward the county's $71.7 million Faith Home-Garner expressway connection which would ultimately divert truck traffic off of Mitchell Road.
The 25-year countywide half-cent sales tax is expected to generate $480.2 million for local streets and roads, $48 million for bike and pedestrian paths, $96 million for traffic management, $269 million for regional projects and $67.2 million for transit services. Ceres share would be $122,210 annually for bike and pedestrian projects, and $244,420 annually for traffic management.
Ceres residents who frequently go to Modesto would also benefit from the regional projects there, such as the approximately $25 million that will go toward the upgrade of the Briggsmore-Carpenter interchange; $2.6 million to widen McHenry Avenue to five lanes between Ladd and Hogue roads; $7.9 million towards construction of a new eight-lane interchange at Standiford and Highway 99 near the Vintage Faire Mall; and $74.2 million to complete the State Route 132 by constructing a four-lane expressway from Highway 99 to Gates Road. Modesto's share of local street fix money would total $171.8 million.
If you go to Oakdale, you'll benefit from road money spent there, such as the contribution of $59.7 million towards completion of the Oakdale Bypass. Oakdale would receive $18.5 million for local streets and road repair and maintenance. Oakdale would receive $1 million for intersection improvements for 108/120 at Rodeo.
If you're a Ceres resident who goes to Turlock, you know that Turlock has some horrible roads. The tax will help Turlock by fixing 1,062 poor roads, constructing a new intersection at West Main Street and 18 new traffic signals. Turlock officials are pleased that $2.53 million would go toward the $12.7 million reconstruction of the Highway 99 interchange at Fulkerth Road.
Other regional projects to be funded are:
• $19 million to the $190 million project to extended Zacharias Road westward to A-5 where a new interchange will be constructed;
• $59.7 million toward the $123 million needed for the design and right-of-way acquisition of the North County Corridor to connect Riverbank with Oakdale;
• $1.79 million to install ramp metering and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) along Highway 99 for the entire stretch of in the county. The total project will cost $17.8 million;
• $1 million toward the $10 million intersection of Highways 108 and 120 in Oakdale;
• $400,000 toward the $4 million needed in Riverbank to improve intersections;
• $7.9 million for the $78.9 million reconstruction of the Highway 99 interchange at Standiford Avenue near the Vintage Faire Mall.
Another reason passage of the tax is a good idea is that it will classify Stanislaus County as a "self help" county and bring on more state and federal highway monies. Eighty-one percent of California counties have local road taxes but not Stanislaus County. The state looks at that with the attitude, "Well, if you're not going to help yourselves, we won't be helping you out that much either."
If you want to see exactly what streets in Ceres - or any city for that matter - would be paved as a result of the passage of Measure L, visit www.stanislaus-localroadsfirst.com and click on the Local Investments tab at the top.
You wouldn't see the value of skipping a dentist for regular check-ups. If you did, you'd see that a $120 filling would be a small price to pay to avoid a lot of pain and an $800 root canal or a loss of a tooth that has to be filled with a bridge that could run $2,100 to $12,000. It's the same with roads. Preventive maintenance must be done to prevent Stanislaus County roads worsening.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at email@example.com.