Tax hiatus would siphon funds from area transit projects 

Although drivers would save about $30 during the summer if a "gas tax holiday" is passed by federal legislators, Bay Area transportation projects would lose $122.5 million worth of funding and progress on San Francisco’s subway to Chinatown would be delayed.

The proposal by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., calls for a hiatus to the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The proposal, backed by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is intended to provide economic relief for vacationing Americans spending time on the road as gas demand and prices hit an apex.

The gas tax, however, would strip local agencies of $122.5 million for projects next year, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The tax contributes about $490 million to Bay Area transportation projects annually. The irony of the gas tax holiday, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said, is that it would delay projects that promote alternatives to driving.

BART, Caltrain, SamTrans and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency would all lose millions for upgrades. Proposed street improvements and bike-pedestrian trail projects could also be delayed as a result of the proposed legislation.

Perhaps the most notable local plan that would be delayed by a proposed tax holiday is preliminary engineering work on the Central Subway project, which would extend Muni’s T-Third light-rail line into Chinatown. Goodwin said it is too early to know how long the project would be delayed if the legislation passed.

The Central Subway would connect the T-Third at Fourth and King streets with the downtown and Chinatown areas by traveling up Fourth Street, going underground at the U.S. Highway 80 overpass and continuing up Stockton Street until Jackson Street. The project is estimated to open in 2016.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown, said he didn’t know until he was informed by The Examiner that the proposal to suspend the gas taxwould have a local effect.

Peskin said he was already opposed to the idea of the gas tax holiday, calling it "shameless political pandering."

Gas is hovering at record prices in San Francisco ($4.02 per gallon), San Jose ($3.95) and Oakland ($3.93), according to AAA, with experts predicting prices and demand will rise this summer.

"Our country is facing some tough times economically and gas prices are playing a role in that," said Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for the McCain campaign.

The MTC has sent letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and the 14 other members of the Bay Area congressional delegation to oppose the legislation, which was introduced April 17 and is now in the Committee on Finance.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

What’s at stake

Projects in danger of delays if the proposed federal "gas tax holiday" is passed

Muni

» T-Third light rail expansion into Chinatown

BART

» Car-replacement program

» Streetscape and pedestrian improvements around Colma BART station

Caltrain

» Signal and communication system upgrades

SamTrans

» Replacement of 40-foot buses

Other projects

» Bike-pedestrian trails in Pacifica and unincorporated San Mateo County

» Rehabilitation to Shell Boulevard in Foster City

» Streetscape improvements to Villa Montgomery in San Mateo

Source: MTC

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Mike Rosenberg

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