Crumbling Roadways Face Trickle-In Funding

Carmichael, CA (MPG)  |  Story by Jacqueline Fox
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One of 9,000 potholes in Sacramento County. No cars or trucks were harmed in the photographing of this pothole. -- MPG file photo

SB 1 Transportation Funds Will Be Protected, But Take Years to Trickle In

Funding for the repair and replacement of roads and highways across the county will begin trickling in next year following the implementation of a planned 12 cent increase in gas prices at the pump in November. But don’t expect to see those potholes filled right away.

A good chunk of the revenue earmarked for road and transportation projects under SB 1, Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial transportation funding packaged passed in April, is expected to deliver $7.5 million for the county in 2018, the first full year of implementation through the gas price hike. Future funding is phased in over the next four years. A significant portion of the initial funds received, however, and subsequent money, will be used to repay a portion of loans borrowed from the county’s transportation pot in previous years, according to Sacramento County’s Director of Transportation, Michael Penrose, who addressed issues regarding transportation and SB 1 funding during a community forum in Carmichael Tuesday.

Documents show an allocation of $685 million from SB 1 funding over the next five years will be used to repay existing loans. Potholes also will be competing against other road and infrastructure projects, such as bridge repairs and major highway fixes. But there is a bright side: All funding generated from SB 1 taxes and fees, Penrose said, will be both protected and grown over time. With protections in place, and creation of an index for the funding over the next five years, Penrose said he the county stands to see close to an additional $28 million in revenue by 2027.

“We won’t see it all come in at once, but it is estimated right now that unincorporated Sacramento County could receive up to 7.5 million in additional money in the first year,” Penrose explained during the forum, which Peters dubbed “Roads 101.”

Penrose acknowledge there are challenges to overturn SB 1 by several community groups and at least one lawmaker. He also recognized justification for widespread community skepticism over previous diversion of transportation dollars for other projects, but explained that SB1 carries a companion bill, ACA 5, which essentially protects funds collected under SB1 from being diverted away from county transportation needs.

Revenue generated from various channels, including the 12 cent increase on gas and vehicle licensing fee increases in 2018, are expected to generate close to $28 million in additional revenue over the next decade, because they will be both protected and tied to an investment-based index account. Voters will be asked to approve ACA 5 in November of 2018. Penrose said historically similar measures have been widely approved.

“ACA 5 carries constitutional protections that the dollars that are collected through SB1 can’t be redirected,” Penrose said. “People who have been watching these funds for years and years have seen the state at different times take these transportation funds to do other things.”

Road repairs, including the ongoing fix of some 40,000 potholes annually, as well as replacement projects across the county’s roughly 450-mile roadway lane system, Penrose said, are the top priority under SB1. The $450 million maintenance backlog, he added, has been intensified by Mother Nature, as the county just experienced its wettest and coldest winter on record.

“We do pothole sweeps twice a year,” Penrose said. “This year, in the pothole sweep, there were 9,000 potholes done. This year has just been incredible with the rains and the transition we’ve seen in the pavement. We seemed to have come apart in January.”

Basic street and sidewalk repairs and subsequent maintenance sweeps across residential sections of the county and some of its major thoroughfares, Penrose said, have taken a backseat to freeway and major road infrastructure projects for decades. For all of its controversy, SB1, he said, intends to reverse that.

“For years and years we haven’t had enough revenue to address the maintenance needs,” Penrose said. “The given revenue that we have had we’ve tried very hard to prioritize the allocation and use of those funds, and in many cases, what you’ll have seen is that we’ve been making a lot of investments on the major roads, the four and six lane roads that carry a lot of traffic. And those, in general, are in better condition than a lot of our neighborhoods. We just flat out don’t have enough revenue to get to the whole thing.”

In addition to gas price hikes, the state and county also receive grants through development fees, as well as grants from the federal government and the Active Transportation Program (ATP). However, much of that funding comes with a caveat, primarily that it be used only for major highway and bridge repairs, with little left over for local needs.

“We can’t use federal funds for the minor roads, so in the neighborhoods we have to look to our local revenues to be able to do the repairs on our minor roads, and that’s where you see the squeeze,” Penrose said.

Where SB 1 money comes from is one thing, how and when it will be allocated is another. Funds will be directed by the Sacramento Transportation Authority to the county, which in turn allocates funds directly to the cities in the county and unincorporated areas. But there are several areas under the allocation table that the county will have to compete for or attempt to pull funding from, including a $200 million fund for a state-local partnership and a $25 million account for local planning grants.

“It’s going to a whole bunch of accounts,” Penrose said. “There will be allocations of funds to the state, the locals, the cities, and some of it will be loan repayment. I can say that historically, Sacramento has done a good job of applying for and receiving grants.”

Peters used the example of the ongoing construction and beautification project currently underway on Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael to illustrate how difficult it is to obtain funding for street and road projects, and how varying stakeholders (business owners and residents) each have different priorities.

The Fair Oaks corridor plan, Peters explained, involved several phases, including road repair, underground power pole work, sidewalk repair and landscaping, as well as competition for funding to make it all happen.

“We have to compete for it, it’s federal, its’ state… it’s crazy, and it takes a lot of work from the department (of transportation) to put it all together and compete for it,” Peters said.

Proposed SB 1 Funding Allocation Accounts:

$1.5 billion for state highways
$1.5 billion for local roads
$750 million for transit operations and capital
$685 million in loan repayments
$400 million for state bridges
$300 million for goods movement/freight projects
$250 million for the new “Solutions for Congested Corridors” program
$200 million for state-local partnership
$100 million for the active Transportation grants
$25 million for Freeway Service Patrol
$25 million for local planning grants
$7 million for UC and USC Transportation Research