BY TONY BIZJAK - California's controversial gas tax hike is under fire, opposed by many voters and subject to a November repeal led by gubernatorial candidate John Cox and other Republicans.
But that hasn't stopped Gov. Jerry Brown from doling out Senate Bill 1 gas tax funds this spring and approving hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to Sacramento and other areas around the state.
It means massive new revenue for road repairs. But it also puts local officials in an awkward position of not knowing whether the money will continue to flow. Officials may plan projects but wait on major commitments this summer until voters decide, analysts said.
"We don't want to obligate ourselves to something we can't fulfill," said Norman Hom, head of the Sacramento Transportation Authority, a countywide transportation agency that sets some local spending priorities. "Other agencies are doing the same. It's a prudent approach."
Here is where Sacramento-area cities, counties and transportation agencies are expected to spend much of the new gas tax, if it comes through.
POTHOLE REPAIR AND STREET REPAVING
Counties and cities have, in fact, been getting some new gas tax funds already on a monthly basis under a basic formula that distributes money based on each city's and county's population and "lane miles."
Sacramento County and its cities together are set to receive an estimated $39 million for fiscal year 2018-19. The county also will get a two-year bonus payment of $6.9 million awarded to it by the state because it has its own 1/2-cent, in-county transportation sales tax in place.
This pot of new gas tax money is for road maintenance and basic fixes, but a portion can be spent on new projects if a city's or county's roads meet minimum state standards for road smoothness.
Sacramento and other cities claim the money is sorely needed for basic street repairs such as overlays and pothole work. Anti-tax critics say the new money would not be needed if governments would spend existing funds more efficiently.
HIGHWAY 50 CARPOOL LANES
Caltrans teamed with the city of Sacramento and Sacramento Regional Transit to win a $110 million competitive grant this spring for several projects along Highway 50.
The bulk of the money, $90 million, will be used to build carpool lanes on Highway 50 from Watt Avenue through downtown Sacramento to the Interstate 5 interchange. Carpool lanes already exist on the freeway from El Dorado Hills to Watt.
Environmentalists, who oppose new freeway lanes, sued to stop the project but dropped their opposition after Caltrans agreed to share more funds with SacRT — $20 million for light-rail improvements on the Gold Line, which runs from Folsom to downtown.
INTERSTATE 5, ELK GROVE TO SACRAMENTO
Caltrans, Sacramento and Elk Grove together won $15 million to help pay for carpool lanes on I-5 between Elk Grove and downtown Sacramento, including some for bike lanes on streets adjacent to I-5.
WHITE ROCK ROAD WIDENING
A coalition of east county cities won $10 million to widen 2 miles of White Rock Road in the area where Folsom has launched a massive housing development.
The project is part of a long-term effort to widen White Rock, Grant Line and Kammerer roads, offering east county commuters an alternative route, taking pressure off of Highways 50 and 99.
Some rural east county residents say the project, called the Sacramento Capital SouthEast Connector Expressway, will cause unwanted urbanization.
ELK GROVE’S SOUTH SIDE
The SouthEast Connector Expressway group also won $7 million to expand Grant Line Road between Bradshaw and Waterman roads on Elk Grove's southern flank, as well as $3 million to rehab Kammerer Road west of Highway 99.
Elk Grove officials hope to annex more than 1,000 acres of farmland south of Kammerer Road, saying they need that additional land to entice job-producing businesses to town. Environmentalists oppose that annexation move and sued this month to stop the expansion.
SACRAMENTO ‘GRID 3.0’
Sacramento won a $5 million grant to help make the downtown street grid friendlier for bikes, pedestrians and transit. That likely will mean more of the parking-protected bike lanes that just got added to P, Q and 10th streets. One is planned for J Street this summer.
Some commuters contend there are not enough bicyclists to warrant taking limited street space away from cars. City officials counter that they are trying to create a downtown where more people will live and get around without needing a car, and where more people feel safe to bicycle.
The city also won $3.3 million in SB 1 funds for work on the Two Rivers recreation trail along the American River. And it got $1.6 million to continue ongoing streetscape improvements on Meadowview Road.
BROADWAY GETS SKINNY
The city plans to apply for $3 million in state funds this summer, part of which could come from SB 1, for the Broadway area. If it gets the funds, the city will build a new, block-long, cut-through street between X Street and Broadway, to give drivers another access point to a southbound Highway 99 ramp at Broadway.
Some of the money also would continue an existing effort to reduce Broadway from four to two lanes between Third and 29th streets, creating a walkable, downtown village feel, in hopes it creates more economic vitality on the boulevard.
WOODLAND AND PLACERVILLE
Woodland in Yolo County won $2 million to improve West Main Street for pedestrians, bicyclists and in particular, to add curb ramps for people in wheelchairs and others with mobility issues. Placerville in El Dorado County got $1 million for an eastbound off-ramp from Highway 50 to Ray Lawyer Drive, a park-and-ride lot, and road realignments on Forni Road.
SacRT has been awarded $84 million, spread out over a handful of years. The agency will buy low-floor light-rail cars, which allow riders to walk or roll wheelchairs directly onto trains. The move will speed service and is expected to encourage some new riders because of added convenience. The agency also will make station modifications to accommodate the low-floor trains.
SacRT also will increase Folsom service from current 30-minute intervals to 15-minute intervals. At some point, SacRT will introduce limited-stop express trains.
Opponents say gas taxes, paid by car drivers, should not be used to fund mass transit. Sacramento transportation planners counter that a small increase in light-rail ridership has a magnified effect on reducing freeway congestion, benefiting drivers.
SAN JOAQUIN TRAINS
The San Joaquin passenger rail line and ACE Rail won a $500 million grant for major changes, including new trains and track improvements. It includes running more trains through the valley into Sacramento and will connect some Altamont Pass trains in the East Bay to Sacramento via Stockton. It helps pay for new train stops in Oakley, Madera, Lodi, Elk Grove, Sacramento City College, midtown Sacramento, North Sacramento and Natomas. Funds include shuttle buses to take riders to Sacramento International Airport.