Report proposes taxes to finance state’s road fixes 

Doubling the gas tax, charging vehicle owners for the number of miles they drive or levying tariffs on alternative fuel vehicles are among a handful of options recommended by the state to raise billions of dollars in additional funds to fix the state’s crumpling roads.

The recommendations to legislators, released Friday in a state Legislative Analyst’s Office report, come just three months after voters approved bonds that will raise about $35 billion in 10 years for infrastructure and congestion improvements statewide.

Funds raised by voter approval of propositions 1A and 1B will bring roughly $7.4 billion to the Bay Area to tackle traffic-congestion problems, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin.

The problem is that the bonds alone aren’t nearly enough to reverse the decades-long neglect highways and transit have faced, according to experts.

"While Proposition 1B provides some one-time additional funding for highway rehabilitation projects, it does not address the long-term issue that maintenance and rehabilitation needs are growing faster than the revenues which pay for these services," according to state analyst Kendra Breiland, who prepared the report.

A political aversion to raising taxes, exacerbated by a 21 percent population increase in California and 26 percent rise in the number of vehicle-miles traveled, has nearly doubled the delay drivers face to 512,000 vehicle-hours per day in 2002, according to experts.

The San Francisco-Oakland area ranked third in the nation for most congested roads, behind Riverside-San Bernardino and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, at the top of the list, according to the report.

"Congestion on urban freeways costs Californians at least $16 million per day in wasted time and excess fuel," Breiland said.

Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Research Association, said raising the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax — which has remained flat since 1994 — is a no-brainer.

He said he also supports charging drivers for each mile they drive but cautioned against levying tariffs on most alternative fuel vehicles, including hybrids.

"In general, you want to reduce taxes on the things you want more of and increase taxes on the things you want less of," Metcalf said.

Whateveroptions are ultimately chosen by legislators, Bay Area drivers can expect to pay more to drive in the future, Goodwin said. "Props. [1A and 1B] are not going to solve all of our transportation problems, but they provide an important down payment and help shrink the shortfalls for highways and transit."

To that end, the MTC is pushing for what appears to be the first regional gas tax in the state.

If the measure goes forward, as much as 10 cents could be added to the 18 cents per gallon drivers already pay at the pump, Goodwin said.

Such a tax would be used exclusively for roads and highways and require the approval of voters, likely in 2008, Goodwin said.

The cost of congestion

» Hours of delay have nearly doubled to 512,000 vehicle-hours per day from 1992 to 2002

» In 2002, 43 percent of the state’s urban freeways were congested, traveling at 35 mph or less during peak commute hours, compared with 32 percent in 1992

» Congestion on urban freeways costs Californians at least $16 million per day, or $5.9 billion per year, in wasted time and excess fuel

» Environmental impacts due to delay include an estimated 512 additional tons of emissions per day statewide

-Source: California Travels: Financing Our Transportation, www.lao.ca.gov

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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