The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which operates the bus and light rail system (LRT), has placed a 30-year, half-percent sales tax extension on the November ballot. The 100% transit measure needs a 2/3 majority for passage and will raise about $6 billion for BART, Caltrain, and LRT.
On 8/29 the VTA Board adopted a policy to divert public transit funds to highway construction, in anticipation of the Measure A passage. Over the 30 year life of the measure, these fund will total roughly $2 Billion. These funds are from State STIP (sales tax) and federal funds. This action was probably a condition necessary to get the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group to fund the campaign for Measure A.
However, when we vote for the sales tax, we are in no way voting for this policy of VTA to "raid transit funds for highway construction." Still, in part because this VTA policy is used by the Measure A proponents in their Ballot arguments, it will not be easy to change. But 30 years is a long time. For example, an energy crisis could change the VTA's thinking in a hurry. Finally, if Measure A fails, a 2002 sales tax measure will undoubtably contain billions for highways and that funding will be nearly impossible to change.
So MTS urges a YES vote for Measure A. Let's also tell our elected officials that all discretionary VTA funds should be used for transit, bicycles, and pedestrian projects; not roads. Gas tax rates should be made sufficient to maintain roads. The fact that the state and federal gas tax rates are too low to fund the VTA highway projects is not an excuse for the VTA's 8/29 action. Finally, we should all urge VTA to add more transit projects into its plan. With parking cashout, we will not need any additional freeway lanes but we will certainly need all the transit we can get.
The VTA Board Members deserve hearty applause for placing the transit measure on the ballot and giving the voters a chance to make a major investment in the future of Santa Clara County. It was a gutsy, forward-thinking move. Another two years of studies, meetings and talks would have simply added more delays and costs to these needed projects.
For over 25 years, the Modern Transit Society has warned that inadequate investment in transit and over-reliance on road building would result in more traffic congestion, air pollution and commuter gridlock. It is time to correct the imbalance. We heartily support the concept of a major investment program for these transit projects (such as Light Rail extensions, BART to San Jose, express Caltrains and buses, improved airport access, etc.). It's unproductive to waste more time arguing between projects when, in truth, we need them all.
Doing nothing is unacceptable and can only result in further deterioration of our quality of life. As grandma used to say, "You get what you pay for." It's time to make a significant investment in the future of this place. The proposal is a good thing for our environment, even if each interest group may argue about relative priorities and details.
It is refreshing to see the VTA Board members 'step up to the plate and boldly take a swing for a home run. That's action worthy of a Silicon Valley startup company and deserves to be appreciated. Bravo and thank you!