March 05, 2012
The BIG Picture!
the Midterm Elections in the Rearview Mirror and a Persistently
Challenging Economic Environment, What Does the Post-2010 Political
Climate Mean for Transportation Improvement Efforts Like the Interstate 5
Gateway Improvement Project?
From Spring 2011
By Tim Whyte
Kids, cover your eyes. We’re looking at The Big Picture. With the midterm elections
of 2010 complete and legislators jockeying for position in Sacramento
and Washington amid an economic climate that continues to pose
challenges, what is the outlook for transportation?
In short: The big picture is fuzzy.
an economic development and construction point of view, it’s going to
continue to be very difficult,” legislative advocate Hunt Braly told the
Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee in a
recent special presentation on the transportation funding outlook. He
was joined by political and transportation consultants Scott Wilk and
Braly said California’s political landscape over the
next couple of years doesn’t make it look any easier for major
infrastructure projects to be brought to fruition, considering the
state’s budget woes and the Legislature’s increasingly limited
flexibility in terms of raising taxes and fees without a two-thirds
He said continuing political gridlock in Sacramento may hamper economic development efforts for now.
will be very difficult to get new projects approved, to build new
roads,” Braly said, adding that the face of northern Los Angeles
County’s representation will continue to change, as political reform and
redistricting by an independent citizens commission are expected to
alter the statewide political landscape.
“It’s hard to believe that
whatever they come up with will not be more competitive, more
competitive seats,” he said. “It could affect Santa Clarita because we
are not enough of an area for one district.”
Another factor affecting
change in California will be the new voter-approved open primary, in
which the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election
regardless of party affiliation. The goal of the new system is to
produce a Legislature that is less likely to be hamstrung by partisan
gridlock, and is more flexible and responsive.
The wild card in the
open primary, Braly said, will be the approximately 20 percent of
California voters who have declined to state a party affiliation.
“What are they going to do?”
Wilk told the Chamber Transportation Committee the Washington outlook
is of course challenging, but maybe not as much as you might think.
actually quite optimistic that we’re going to be able to function,”
Wilk said of the new climate in Congress, where the Republicans
established a new majority in the November election while the Democrats
maintained a 51-47 edge in the House.
Despite widespread concern
about the congressional ban on earmarks, Wilk said he doesn’t think
earmarks will be gone permanently. “They are going to be renamed,” he
With the facelift Congress received in November, will we see gridlock or compromise?
will happen, Wilk said, but added he expects Congress to “punt” on many
major issues until after the 2012 presidential election.
Sohikian agreed compromise is on the horizon in the newly blended
Congress, but added, “How all that trickles down to transportation is
really hard to see right now.”
He said it’s vital for local leaders
to take every available opportunity to remind their elected
representatives that transportation is important, especially in a
political environment where everyone is expecting their favorite
programs or projects to endure some kind of spending reduction.
will have to expect some federal cuts this year,” Sohikian said.
“Minimally, we know we’re going to get some kind of haircut.”
But, he said, it’s cyclical. “I’ve been around transportation funding now for 20 years. It goes in cycles with the economy.”
of the non-cyclical challenges, he said, is the fact that the federal
gas tax is a flat amount per gallon, rather than a percentage.
just no ability to want to raise taxes and the highway trust fund is
losing money as we speak,” Sohikian said, adding that modern cars’
increased fuel efficiency is actually translating into fewer dollars for
“We’re buying less gas, so we’re paying less
tax,” he said. “Eighteen cents is the federal tax. That hasn’t changed
since the early ’90s. I can’t imagine that anybody is going to bring it
up in the next several years and say, ‘We need to increase the gas
That’s the bad news for transportation funding. The good news?
Infrastructure improvement is a popular notion among leaders of both
parties — and where there’s a will...
“The good news for
transportation is that typically pouring concrete is a bipartisan
issue,” Sohikian said. “They still want to spend that dollar. The
question is who gets to spend more of it.”
So where does Interstate 5 fit in the broader context of the post-2010 political climate?
everyone else, we are carefully watching what’s happening in Sacramento
and Washington, D.C.,” said Victor Lindenheim, executive director of
the Golden State Gateway Coalition.
clearance has been secured and funding sources have been identified for
the first phase of the Interstate 5 Capacity Enhancement Project/Gateway
“Construction of the new truck lanes could begin as soon as next year,” Lindenheim said.
But, he added, the Coalition remains watchful of the “Big Picture.”
course our top priority is the I-5 enhancement project, and we’ll be
working to get everything in order for the next phases — including high
occupancy vehicle lanes — that are scheduled to be built after the first
truck lane phase,” Lindenheim said.
“But we are also mindful of the
importance of not just this project but also all efforts to improve
mobility and facilitate economic development through transportation
improvements,” he said. “What happens with our elected leaders in
Sacramento and Washington over the next couple of years can have a
profound impact on the future of transportation — locally, regionally