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Robin Brandt, San Clemente
In a time where available revenues are decreasing and financial needs are increasing, there is no logic to using tax dollars from any source to fund a toll road.
The 2015 ten-year State Highway Operation and Protection Program Plan (SHOPP) forecasts $8 billion needed per year to do necessary maintenance on the state’s highways and bridges. Current funding from the gasoline taxes are about $2.3 billion per year. This shortfall has resulted in a need to prioritize spending and the adoption of a “fix it first” policy toward our highways. This policy favors repairs or other work to improve efficiency over new construction.
Revenues from gas taxes are declining, partly because they were not indexed to inflation and partly because of an ongoing trend of fewer miles traveled per person. California’s population is aging, and an ever-increasing percentage of residents don’t commute. Even younger residents are inclined to drive less. Add to this greatly improved vehicle fuel efficiency and all signs indicate that the highway fund will not see an increase in funding in years to come. The governor and the legislature are exploring alternatives, including a road charge tied to miles traveled rather than fuel purchased, as a source of pay-as-you-go financing.
Newly constructed toll roads do not address any of these problems, and to the extent that they divert highway funds or encumber the state with more debt they actually do harm. Already, toll rates on the 241 and 73 are significantly higher than equivalent roads elsewhere in the country, and still the revenues from existing toll roads ($167,635 in FY2016) barely cover debt service, and the interest payments will increase in the future. This does not seem to be a reasonable solution.
Caltrans must focus its resources and strategic efforts on getting the maximum value out of our existing transportation network. The 241 extension plays no part in reaching the state’s goals.