For the past 20 years, Santa Barbara County has been able to maintain and improve its transportation infrastructure because of funding from a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 1989. Voters understood then that investing in our transportation infrastructure would be critical to keeping our economy healthy and protecting our quality of life. They also understood that creating a reliable, local source of funding was the best way to ensure that critical work got done — that we couldn’t rely on the state or federal government to help us.
As we look now to the next 30 years, we have an opportunity to continue what we started. Measure A on the Nov. 4 ballot will enable the county to meet its diverse and changing transportation needs by maintaining the current half-cent sales tax. Measure A recognizes that we cannot neglect the roads and highways that form the backbone of our transportation infrastructure, even as the imperative grows to reduce our dependence on the automobile and oil.
Measure A will keep our more than 2,000 miles of roads, highways and bridges safe and in good repair, protecting an existing public asset whose value reaches into the billions of dollars. Measure A will invest in technology that speeds the flow of traffic on local roads. It will widen Highway 101, fixing our county’s worst traffic bottleneck and one of the biggest threats to our economic health.
At the same time, Measure A represents a bold statement that we must develop safe, convenient and affordable alternatives to our cars. It may be the largest investment we have ever made in expanding the use of transit and alternative transportation. That’s good for us and good for the environment.
Almost a third of the total $1.05 billion that Measure A will generate over the next 30 years will go to supporting public transit and other forms of alternative transportation. That includes more bicycle paths, sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses. Measure A will provide funding for carpool and vanpool programs. It will expand local and commuter bus service, while also keeping it affordable. Measure A moves us forward in developing passenger rail service, one of the most popular and fastest-growing forms of public transit in the country.
It is Measure A’s fair and balanced approach that is perhaps its greatest strength and the reason it has earned near-unanimous support among a wide range of political, labor, business, environmental and community groups that don’t often agree on much. It reflects the diverse needs of all our residents.
Failing to pass Measure A would be disastrous for our county. It would hamstring our economy. It would mean fewer transportation options. We would forgo $522 million in matching state and federal money for transportation improvements. Failure to pass Measure A would put more pressure on local city and county budgets to pick up the slack for road repair.
Measure A is a good plan for all of Santa Barbara County. Without increasing taxes, Measure A will move our transportation system into the 21st century.
Janet Wolf represents the 2nd District on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.