State Slashing Transportation Funding

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) learned that the state will be rescinding $754 million previously approved for transportation projects statewide. The RTC board is urging the California Legislature and Governor Brown to immediately address the funding shortfall and asking the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to minimize impacts on projects in Santa Cruz County. The RTC is responsible for delivering a full range of safe, convenient, reliable, and efficient transportation choices for Santa Cruz County.

Due to the continuing reduction in oil prices, gas and diesel tax revenues available to maintain local roads, to support public transportation, and to build new infrastructure projects have plummeted. Bicycle, pedestrian, highway, and local roadway preservation projects previously approved for State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funds by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) are at risk. The State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) currently includes $25 million for important projects in the County that have been in development for many years.

The decrease in gas tax revenues, compounded with the state’s decision to divert transportation revenues to repay General Obligation bond debt, and increases in fuel economy have left transportation agencies at all levels facing painful choices. RTC Executive Director George Dondero noted that “the scale of this funding crisis is unprecedented.”

Due to a recently lowered forecast of state revenues, no State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) funding is available for new projects over the next five years. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) will instead slash $754 million previously approved for critical transportation improvements. CTC Chair Lucy Dunn stated, “What this means is that almost every county in California that relies on this source of funding for projects that improve traffic and air quality will have to cut or delay projects indefinitely. The effect of this reduction on the state’s transportation system will be nothing short of catastrophic.”

Projects that are at risk of losing funds in Santa Cruz County include:

  • Auxiliary lanes on Highway 1 and a new bicycle/pedestrian bridge between 41st Avenue and Soquel Ave exits. This project will improve safety, traffic flow, and bicycle and pedestrian access through the one of the most heavily traveled sections of roadway in Santa Cruz County.
  • Highway 1/9 Intersection Improvements – This intersection provides critical access to job centers, UCSC, tourist destinations, and homes.
  • Rail Trail/Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network (MBSST). City of Santa Cruz and Watsonville sections of this very popular trail.
  • Highway 1/Harkins Slough Road improvements. Students traveling to Pajaro Valley High School are currently walking in the roadway because the existing overcrossing is insufficient. The City of Watsonville is working diligently with Caltrans to improve bicycle and pedestrian access over the highway.
  • Local roadway rehabilitation and safety projects – including essential system preservation projects on Airport Boulevard in Watsonville, Casserly Road, and Freedom Boulevard through Aptos.
  • Bike/pedestrian Bridge over Highway 1 connecting Seacliff Village and Aptos. This bridge will especially improve safety for students traveling to Mar Vista Elementary School and Cabrillo College.

The State gasoline tax is a volatile source of funding, since it is subject to adjustments based on fluctuations in the price of gasoline. The current rate was decreased from 18 cents per gallon to 12 cents as of July 1, 2015. Due the continuing drop in the price of gasoline in the past year, the California Board of Equalization is expected to reduce the tax further to 10 cents in 2016, causing the massive revenue shortfall of $754 million. RTC Commissioner and Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold noted, “This situation points out the need for our own funding for transportation projects in Santa Cruz County. The State is an unreliable source of funds.”

The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is urging the State Legislature and the Governor to address the funding shortfall immediately. However in recognition that state revenues are highly unreliable and will not generate sufficient revenues for all of the transportation needs in Santa Cruz County, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is also working diligently with the community to place a local measure on the November 2016 ballot to raise funds so that we are less dependent on state revenues to address our transportation needs. 84% of Californian’s live in counties where these types of local “self-help” tax measures are already in place.