County to ask voters for more transportation money
Alameda County transportation leaders are set to ask voters for more money for roads, trails and transit in November. The Alameda County Transportation Commission wants to double the county’s existing half-cent sales tax for transportation projects and make it permanent.
The tax would raise an estimated $7.8 billion over the next 30 years, money that would pay for projects that include a BART extension to Livermore, completion of the Bay Trail and restoration of bus service cuts. AC Transit would get nearly $1.5 billion under the plan; ferries would get $39 million.
If voters approve this third iteration of the existing Measure B sales tax, Alameda would get $242 million toward replacement of its three bridges, funding for high speed bus service from Alameda Point to the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland and help paying for improvements at the I-880/Broadway/Jackson interchange in Oakland, which city staff said could improve access to and from Alameda’s West End.
“We think this offers extraordinary funding opportunities when we don’t see them coming from any other place,” the Alameda County Transportation Commission’s deputy director, Tess Lengyel, told the City Council on March 20. She said 79 percent of voters polled on extending the tax said they’re in favor of it; the tax needs the okay of two-thirds of voters to pass. The county commission is made up of representatives of each city in the county and all five county supervisors.
The existing half-cent sales tax, which was approved by voters in 1986 and again in 2000 with 81.5 percent in support, is set to expire in 2022. Lengyel said the projects the tax was supposed to fund in its current incarnation, including a widening of I-238 and the Warm Springs BART stop in Fremont, are already underway or complete.
If approved by voters, 48 percent of the new tax money would pay for transit, 30 percent for local roads and bridges, 9 percent for highways and 8 percent for bicycle and pedestrian projects, the plan says. The remaining funds would be used for land use and transportation investments and technology, it says.
The council hasn’t signed off on the proposed tax extension yet because council members said they want the public to have more of a chance to discuss it before they offer their approval. None of the 40 meetings the county’s transportation commission held on the spending plan the taxes would fund were held in Alameda, and Councilwoman Lena Tam questioned whether the city’s boards and commissions were given a proper opportunity to offer input on projects placed on Alameda’s list.
“I wanted an opportunity for city staff to solicit community input through the Transportation Commission and Planning Board, as these are very significant projects,” Tam said in response to questions from a reporter. “Since the tax is in perpetuity, and we were being asked to endorse the measure and request that it be placed on the ballot, it was important for the community to understand what they would be getting if the measure passed.”
Public Works Director Matt Naclerio said that city staff created Alameda’s project list using existing transportation plans, environmental documents, reports, and studies and in consultation with peers in Oakland and on the county transportation commission, though he told Tam that boards and commissions would have more of a say in the future. The newly created plan would be in place through 2042, though it calls for at least one comprehensive update before that.
Alameda’s Transportation Commission discussed the plan at its March 23, 2011 meeting, minutes show, and commission members were asked if there were projects they would like to see prioritized, though they weren’t handed a specific project list.
City staff asked the county for $94 million to replace the Miller Sweeney Bridge with a new, earthquake-resistant bridge that would hold four lanes for vehicles, dedicated bicycle and transit lanes and sidewalks on both sides. The current bridge has been retrofitted so it won’t fall down in an earthquake, but there’s no guarantee it would remain usable after one, said Obaid Khan, supervising civil engineer in Alameda’s Public Works department.
Alameda County has included $46 million in the plan to replace the Park Street Bridge to similar standards, and another $17.8 million toward the estimated $40.3 million cost of replacing the High Street Bridge, according to a list submitted to the council for its March 20 meeting.
City staffers also asked for $75 million toward the $189 million cost of improvements at the I-880 entrance off Broadway and Jackson in Oakland, which sits right next to the entrance of the Webster Tube. Khan said the project – which the city got $8.5 million in Measure B funding for in 2000 and which Oakland just recently signed on to co-sponsor – is needed to bolster economic opportunities on the city’s West End and at Alameda Point.
“Alameda Point development, as we have seen in previous studies, can impact the crossings,” Khan said. “The city has always taken the position that we really need this project to stimulate economic development in the West End.”
Khan said the project would also include funds for high-speed bus service from Alameda Point to the Oakland-12th Street BART station.
City staffers also asked for $9 million for rapid bus service that would run from Alameda Point up Lincoln Avenue to the Fruitvale BART station; money from the tax would also pay for completion of the Bay Trail, which runs through Alameda. And if voters approve the tax extension, the city would get $3.5 million a year for local streets, bike and pedestrian safety and paratransit – nearly double what it gets from the existing Measure B tax.
“Overall, this is a very good plan for not only the city but the county as a whole,” said Chris Miley, who sits on Alameda’s Transportation Commission and is a staffer handling transportation issues for Alameda County Supervisor Nadia Lockyer.
ALAMEDA'S PROJECT LIST
Projects and services to be funded by the proposed extension and increase of the Measure B sales tax include:
I-880/Broadway/Jackson multimodal and circulation improvements: $75 million
Rapid bus service from Alameda Point to Fruitvale BART: $9 million
New Miller Sweeney (Fruitvale) Bridge: $94 million
New Park Street Bridge (county-sponsored project): $46 million
New High Street Bridge (county-sponsored project): $17.8 million
Local streets and roads (first year): $2.81 million (88 percent increase over existing funds)
Bicycle and pedestrian projects (first year): $360,000 (80 percent increase)
Paratransit (first year): $310,000 (97 percent increase)
Source: City staff report