‘A’ Winner

Transportation initiative really pays off

By Gary Delsohn
February 2024

The idea that government can do things well is a tough sell in some circles. But I’ll go out on a limb to argue Measure A, the half-cent sales tax for transportation approved twice by local voters, is a success story.

Don’t confuse this with the so-called “citizens’ initiative” Measure A that went down in flames in 2022. That Measure A was opposed by good-government groups such as the League of Women Voters, who denounced it as “the product of developers, business organizations and labor advocates” rather than sound and balanced transportation planning.

The Measure A I’m talking about is administered by the Sacramento Transportation Authority, an independent local government agency overseen by a 16-member board of directors. Elected officials from cities in Sacramento County, along with county supervisors, comprise the board.

Measure A generates about $170 million a year in revenues. Between 2009 and 2019, it pumped more than $3.5 billion into the county’s economy, including matching and assorted monies from state and federal sources.

Sure, we still have too many potholes. Traffic is a major headache. There are local bottlenecks that drive us all crazy. We don’t do enough to encourage people to drive less.

But think about where we would be if voters rejected Measure A in 1989. Or again in 2004, when an astounding 75% of the electorate approved the measure and allowed it to continue until 2039.

“Measure A has improved the quality of life for all of those that live, work and visit the county of Sacramento and its seven cities,” Kevin Bewsey, executive director of the Sacramento Transportation Authority, tells me. “This continued investment has created a truly multimodal transportation system with the ability to make further improvements over time.”

If anything, Bewsey, an affable executive with years of experience in the public sector, may be understating Measure A’s impact.

Money raised by the sales tax expanded light rail, paid for renovation of the multimodal train station Downtown, financed improvements to the Highway 50-Watt Avenue Interchange, supported mass transit, fixed potholes, and accelerated economic development and job creation with transportation investments.

I would rather see more Measure A funds go for projects that encourage cycling and cycling safety and other non-automobile uses. But the list of projects funded by Measure A serves many interests.

The list will never make everyone happy, but it’s best when accountable elected officials—with real community participation—rather than developers eager to improve access to their new subdivisions, call the shots. The defeat of the 2022 Measure A extension drove home that point.

And while some people are anxious to nail down another extension, Rich Desmond, the Sacramento County supervisor who chairs the Sacramento Transportation Authority, is wise to counsel patience.

“Measure A contributes on so many different levels,” Desmond says. “Obviously, in providing us more resources to fix our roadways but also to upgrade our roadways to make them more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists and make them safer.

“And while doing that, it really opens up economic investment opportunities in areas that make our transportation network more accessible to people.”

Desmond believes 2024 isn’t a good time to press for a Measure A extension, given economic and other uncertainties.

He says, “I think we need to get a lot of stakeholders together from all the cities in the county, obviously the county supervisors and Regional Transit, environmental organizations, bike advocacy groups, and talk about an initiative possibly in 2026. We have to have a lot of people at the table because we have to strike the right balance to really make it work.”

He’s right. Desmond has a strong, experienced executive director in Bewsey. Voters have shown they’ll support a local tax increase at the right time for the right projects if the right people are part of the planning.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at gdelsohn@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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