Analysis: MTA, County Vote to Place Transportation Initiative on Ballot

By Victor Lindenheim

Executive Director, 

Golden State Gateway Coalition

On July 24, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board voted 9-2 to place a transportation funding proposal on the November ballot. The proposal, to add ½ cent to the County sales tax, would ostensibly raise $40 billion over 30 years to pay for projects in Los Angeles County’s long range transportation plan (LRTP).

Three billion dollars is committed to transit capital projects, the lion’s share going to light rail and subway projects; $1.2 billion is reserved for highway projects, including a capacity enhancement to I-5 from SR-134 to SR-170. Another $470 million is locked in for bus operations, Metrolink and local projects. In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s $4.7 billion already committed to be spent beginning in 2010.

The plan includes at least two funding elements in the highway projects category that are of interest to the Coalition and other I-5 Gateway Improvement project advocates and allies: a projected $410 million allotment toward I-5 (“truck lanes to Kern County”); and inclusion of $90.8 million allotment for the I-5/SR 14 interchange improvement. 

The $410 million allotment for “I-5 North Capacity Enhancements” is not a guaranteed up-front “minimum,” as specified for a select group of priority highway and transit projects. It is a soft promise that, after priorities are funded, I-5 project funding needs can be seriously considered. And when will MTA LRTP money for I-5 construction be there? The expenditure plan says: “as funds become available.” 

It is assumed by MTA that the ½ cent sales tax will generate $40 billion over 30 years. For simplicity’s sake, let’s generously assume that the revenue will flow evenly year-to-year. That would mean it would take just under five years to fund the priority projects specified in the expenditure plan. 

So, if I understand the proposed ordinance and enabling legislative language as proposed, we’ll just have to wait and see on the other $35 billion in potential and secondary projects, which currently includes north county’s priorities.

However, the ordinance language contains a small, but important silver lining that could be beneficial to I-5 advocates. It specifies (in Section 7 – “Use of Revenues”) that surplus funds for completed highway capital projects can be used for highway projects in the same subregion. And here’s why the $90.8 million specified for the I-5/SR-14 Interchange Improvement is of interest: it is already funded from other sources. Anything remaining should be available for I-5 and/or other highway improvements in Northern Los Angeles County. 

There are still some tall hurdles in the process before we see a sales tax increase and a new pot of money for transportation improvements in Los Angeles County. The County Board of Supervisors has authorized placement of the tax proposal on the ballot, while indicating their opposition to its passage; the state Legislature must pass authorizing legislation; and the voters must pass the ordinance with a 2/3 majority in favor. 

But, for all the uncertainties of passage and implementation, the possibility of having new resources on hand is appealing.

The bottom line: The proposal offers tangible transportation improvements to people who live, work and play in Los Angeles County, if not necessarily with an equitable distribution of costs and benefits. However, the proposal offers a possibility — not a promise — of funding for the I-5 Gateway Improvement Project and improvements to SR-14 and SR-138.

The Gateway Coalition’s mission is to improve roadway transportation in northern Los Angeles County. Our priority is the Interstate 5 corridor. The Gateway Coalition’s position on this should, and will, reflect the needs and concerns of its members and the citizens of L.A. County. 

More information about the MTA is available