Transportation and Road Maintenance

Position: Transportation Repair, Maintenance and Improvements

TransportationTraffic congestion must be reduced through better neighborhood design including more alternatives for getting places by motor vehicle, bicycle and walking. Present arterial and highway connections must be improved and made more efficient. We are currently working toward achieving that. It is a work in progress that will take years of diligent effort as our economy allows the necessary Federal, State and local funding to increase.

I've already introduced at the national level a new method of funding road repairs and maintenance that would reduce fuel costs and eliminate some other fees currently being charged. I believe it to be the fairest method consiered to date to pay for these things at the national, state and local level.

Position: Street Maintenance Funding (T)

 You, our voters, saw fit to pass a ½ cent sales tax increase which is providing more than $3 million a year which we are spending, on streets and roads. Through appropriate scheduling of repairs and replacement, this City Council is doing all that it can to prevent the failure of our transportation infrastructure.

I am, personally, seeking to bring back home more of our State and Federal transportation money to achieve this purpose. That money is dedicated by law to specific areas so I am working currently on getting somewhat more than $250 million in State/Federal money for the continued improvement of Highway 46  East out past the "Y". I succeeded in getting $350 million a few years ago for the segment to and through the "Y" from the California Transportation Commission (CTC). I've also succeeded in seeing that MAP-21 at the Federal level retains dedicated money for all regions of the United States and does not limit it to those with 250,000 population and above. I'm continuing to work for additional funding and long term certainty of those funds.

Over the past nine years I've already managed to acquire, with the help of others (no one does anything alone), nearly $2 billion in highway and road improvement money for our local region (in and within 15 miles of the city). 

 Methods of funding our transportation infrastructure ourselves:

Gas Excise Tax

Sales Tax 

Weight Tax 

Vehicle Registration Fees

Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax 

 

Introduction:

Everything costs something. People who work planning, engineering and building or repairing our infrastructure expect to be paid a reasonable wage. Materials used have a cost. We must have enough money to pay those bills or we cannot have the good roads, bridges and highways that would have been provided. 

I am supporting the countywide half cent sales tax increase for transportation in November because it is the closest we can come to fair payment of our local transportation infrastructure available to us at this time. Pointing our fingers at someone else and saying they should pay for our transportation infrastructure won’t get any of it built. If we don’t charge our visitor/tourists for their costs to our infrastructure we will have to pay for their costs out of our own pocket. To me, THAT is UNFAIR! 

The real question is and always has been: How do we make the tax or fee fair? 

Gas Excise Tax:

This currently exists with local government getting one cent of every dollar paid by those who buy gas (fuel). It is very inadequate and does not differentiate between regular, hybrid, electric or diesel vehicles. It also doesn’t account for the weights of the different vehicles causing the wear and tear on our roads nor the miles per gallon they can travel. 

As we get more and more vehicles on the road that use less and less gas our funds diminish while our road deterioration increases. 

Sales Tax: 

This tax has no relationship to road deterioration. What it does have is something no other present method of taxation has regarding transportation infrastructure: It is paid by those using the roads to get to where they purchase taxable goods regardless if where they live.

In the case of “tourism” locations, like Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County, people creating wear and tear but not living here pay approximately 60% of that tax! That relieves our local taxpayers of 60% of the cost of those road repairs. 

Is there a fairer way? Yes, but it doesn’t exist as yet. 

Weight Tax: 

This tax is only paid by large, heavy vehicles such as trucks, buses an motor homes. They do cause greater wear and tear to our roads and this is a way to compensate for that extra expense. 

It does not apply to automobiles which also have a significant differential as to weight and the wear and tear they cause. 

Vehicle Registration Fees: 

These fees previously were use to fix roads but recently were diverted to pay for the Department of Motor Vehicles expenses and some of the California Highway Patrol budget. 

By shifting where the money went we significantly reduced the amount of money available for our roads. 

Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax: 

This is potentially the fairest tax of all but its consideration induces fear of loss of privacy. It is being implemented in other states and is being studied in California but none of the proposals take enough things into consideration to be truly fair. 

Modern technology must be used with encripted messaging. The computers should handle all data collection, assignment of billing, credits and payments with a cross checked electronic system. We have the technology to do this and more sophisticated, safe technology is being developed as this is being written. All units must be manufactured to specific specifications that do NOT record specific addresses where the vehicle goes. It should ONLY record the jurisiction of the road on which it traveled (and the weight of the vehicle).

Through very specific GPS we can record the miles traveled on each type of road and who the road belongs to. The devices which can be installed in each vehicle will send information segregated into very specific basic information OTHER THAN EXACT LOCATION. Information could show private road and owner, public road and owner (city, county, state, federal, tax district, etc.). Each unit could also be set to encrypt the weight of the vehicle in which it is located (even including the weight of the load being transported by the vehicle, passenger or freight) in order to adjust the fee accordingly. Different locations actually have different markets for cost of repairing the roads in that specific jurisdiction.

The computed fees would be aggregated by computer and payments would be made to every jurusiction owning roads according to the actual impacts they had from all sources (other than natural disaster). Tourists would pay threir fair share as would freight movements.

This method of providing the money for our transportation infrastructure could replace all of the others FOR REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE. It would NOT provide any money for new construction including expansion of existing facilities.

Now for the Bigger Picture on Paso Robles Transportation!

LIMITED GOAL

The transportation system for our city must integrate well into the region and state in all its aspects. Roads, highways, freeways, rail and air infrastructure must each be prepared to carry freight and people to wherever they must go in a safe and efficient manner. The same infrastructure is used for transporting people and freight but the funding components are separated by law. The capacity must be sufficient for both in order to have a healthy environment and vibrant economy. Improvements must take all aspects of travel into consideration and appropriate funding must be provided within a fair format, which means that transportation pays for its own infrastructure on an equitable basis through fuel taxes, license or use fees, Federal Government funding for federal military needs and basic national policy implementation and State funding using the sources already mentioned.

STREETS, ROADS AND HIGHWAYS

These State funds were sufficient from 1935 into the 21st century until the State of California decided to “raid” local revenues to pay for the State’s budget adjustments and overspending. The State first “borrowed” some of our money, with no pay back time set, from one source and all of it from another. Then it changed the type of tax it collected and took all of the local portion for itself. That left the “balance” owed from previous “borrowing” without any designated pay-back time. Through four years of constant badgering for the State to return this money I have been able, through leadership at the local and state levels, to get the State to begin paying that money back in 2013 to a small extent. In 2015, in that manner, I was able to get the State to give Paso Robles over $1.4 million for local roads which we are already in process of using for that purpose within Paso Robles.

However, we should realize that fuel taxes are falling behind need because they were set at specific cents per gallon rather than a percentage of price. Therefore, as gas mileage for vehicles improve and people move to CNG and electric power for their vehicles there is less and less money available to repair our streets and highways. We need to find a more equitable way to fund this maintenance and these repairs. We are looking at various alternatives now in accord with the principles listed above. I am currently reviewing the Governor's Budget Proposal as well as various legislative proposals to address this issue.

Recently another effort of ours came to fruition with the improvement of Union Road through the use of specially designated bicycle path and other local dedicated funds for that purpose. That street reopened in June, 2015. It is greatly improved. We have used bicycle path, drainage and street and road grants plus local funds to also improve 21st Street, 12th Street and Spring Street. Slurry seal of many of our streets will occur during good weather in 2016 using the $1.4 million owed to us, which I was instrumental in securing from the State in 2015.

I expect to be even more involved in drafting future transportation funding legislation in the next few years, through NARC. All of my regional, state and national positions of influence are based upon my being on this City Council and working hard at the opportunities I'm given. 

PASSENGER RAIL

In rail I have worked, as Chairman for two years and a member of the Board of Directors of the rail authority for the Pacific Surfliner Corridor (LOSSAN), to become self- governing without being under the “wing” of Cal-Trans. That effort was successfully concluded on June 29th with the signing of the Interagency Transfer Agreement.

Funding for rail comes primarily from self-generated funds (ticket and food service income) with Federally ordered State subsidies for the balance of cost. The infrastructure is provided by the freight rail companies and we lease time on those rails. They need to be improved and increased for more capacity. I propose to do this by getting a reconsideration of the spending priorities for  city-to-city rail corridor infrastructure.

The money I'm seeking would also allow the plans of the Coast Rail Coordinating Committee (CRCC) to come to fruition. As an alternate on that Board of Directors I am working to that end and, if I’m successful, we will have two additional trains stopping in Paso Robles daily. The track improvements for city-to-city rail would also increases freight capacity giving us the opportunity to improve economic development in California and add upwards of one million new jobs with 400 – 650 of them being in our local area.

When I was Chairman of the Board of LOSSAN I was priviledged to be a featured speaker and panelist at various state and national rail conferences and conventions. Through these opportunities I was able to engage the top management of AmTrak in the long distance train division and many of the regional people to further the cause of additional passenger service from San Diego to San Jose.  Many of these efforts will take a number of years to accomplish.

During my presidency I also presented to the combined rail corridors a set of policies for us to jointly advocate. My list of five was expanded and fleshed out through the input of all the corridors and their boards to one, unanimously approved, that accomplished a number of things in concert with our dilligence regarding efforts in Sacramento.

The State Senate approved and implemented a new "Select Committee" on rail with Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, of Santa Barbara, as its Chairman in 2014 And the Assembly followed suit in 2015. LOSSAN along with the other rail corridors and the paassengers' organization, Rail PAC, worked together dilligently to make this happen. I am pleased to have been a major part of that effort.

Our efforts toward "self-governance" have succeeded! An agreement between LOSSAN and the State of California was signed on June 29, 2015, giving LOSSAN full operational and management control of the corridor which runs the Pacific Surfliner passenger trains from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.

AIR

At our airport we currently serve general aviation (private aircraft), CalFire (for borate bombers) and the military (for summer exercises at Camp Roberts) as well as many local businesses and organizations. We need to develop a freight operations component at our airport, since two efforts at commercial passenger airline travel have previously failed to generate enough traffic for success. Nearly all improvements to the infrastructure at our airport have been provided by Federal funding based in part upon national security purposes. We need to step up to the plate and go the extra mile to enable additional jobs at our airport as funding becomes available.

Proposals are being offered to change the method of airport administration and management. I am meeting with the FAA in Washingto, D.C., during February 2016 to seek information and advice on this topic.

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

Our local surface transportation system is integrally connected with the region, state and nation for long distance freight and passenger travel. Locally, we need alternate and parallel routes to the highway system for motorized vehicles as well as non-motorized trails for those who prefer a personally healthy, less intrusive life style. That system has already been planned and is being implemented in segments as money becomes available.

International trade is an important component of economic development. Our nation is connected by rail and highway with the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles which currently process close to 80% of all Pacific Rim imports and transport them to their destinations throughout the United States. Highways I-10 and I-80 are too impacted to accept much additional freight and still accommodate passenger vehicles. For east/ west transport that leaves only the 46/41 to the I-5 route from the coast through the 101 connection. The Los Angeles basin transportation infrastructure contains 16 of the 40 most congested locations in the United States. We are the next, most natural, outlet for overflow freight truck traffic. We do NOT want to become a congested relief valve for that excess traffic so various preparations are necessary.

First, expand our available capacity while, simultaneously encouraging alternatives.

A cooperative alternative is expansion of rail capacity throughout California to carry the freight. This will also increase capacity and availability of passenger rail with a reduction by up to 30% in travel time (San Luis Obispo to San Diego). The doubling in size of the Panama Canal already has Asia gearing up to increase its exports by $200 billion a year creating over 1.2 million jobs in the United States. Our freight capacity and export capabilities will determine how much of this economic development takes place in California. Due to this known, and obvious, potential impact to Paso Robles I am committed to plan and prepared to accommodate the economic expansion, create alternate local routes and protect our semi-rural lifestyle and culture while accepting the economic advantages of the increased activity.

Ports

I am committed to assist the ports on the other side of the Canal (in Florida, Texas and Mississippi) to expand their capabilities and provide healthy competition and availability of alternative service facilities. The world trade market is still expanding, not contracting, and there is sufficient room for all boats to float succefully as the tide rises.

To that end I sponsored a "Ports Policy" at the national level that was adopted in June.

It is:

 

NARC Ports & Waterways Policy Adopted June 10, 2015

PORTS AND WATERWAYS

Ports and waterways are crucial to an integrated, intermodal transportation system; the nation’s economic well-being; and protecting the homeland.

NARC supports federal legislation that:

Creates a national, intermodal freight policy to improve the reliability and efficiency of freight movement and the transportation system overall.

Recognizes the importance of freight and intermodal freight connections and the essential role that regional planning organizations play in issues related to freight movement.

MPOs and other regional planning organizations must be partners in the development of a federal freight program and any federal efforts to create programs to increase freight movement and efficiency, including access to funding.

Provides long-term, increased funding for surface transportation legislation that: allows for adequate construction and maintenance of the landside infrastructure that accesses the nation’s ports and; recognizes and funds planning and construction of intermodal facilities to support these operations.

Annually distribute all funds collected through the Harbor Maintenance Tax for harbor maintenance projects and allow for full utilization of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.

Protects the nation and its regions with proactive measures that increase the security – including cybersecurity – of ports and waterways.

 

Additional Detail:

Statement to NARC Transportation Committee and Board of Directors prepared for presentation June 8th and 10th, 2015, in Raleigh, NC. 

By NARC Transportation Committee Policy Chairman Fred Strong. 

You may wonder why we should expend our efforts supporting the nation’s ports when we have so many pressing needs in the area of highways, bridges and rail. Failing infrastructure is extremely important but we can’t pay attention to one aspect of infrastructure and transportation mobility without paying attention to all areas that interface with it or we are doomed to failure. 

Each segment of our economy generates jobs, economic benefits and, most importantly for government … tax and fee revenue.

 Our nation’s coastal ports in 2014 accounted for 541,946 direct jobs and an additional 21.4 million jobs are with exporters/importers and users of our ports.

In 2014, marine cargo activity generated approximately $4.6 Trillion of economic activity, accounting for 26% of the nation’s gross domestic product. 

In 2014, ports accounted for $321.1 Billion of federal, state and local taxes.

 What the ports need in return in infrastructure and security maintenance and improvements to handle the expected freight volume in 2025 is a total of $28.9 Billion from the federal government. Pacific ports need over $13 billion. Atlantic ports need over $11 billion. Gulf ports need over $4 billion and Great Lakes ports need over $300 million.

Working together with a Congress and  an Administration that recognizes the value of our nation’s TOTAL transportation system for economic survival and the safety of our citizens, we can achieve this during the balance of this Congressional session through long term commitments to achievement.

 NARC has developed a port policy proposal that allows us to work with like minded groups to be a significant part of that dialog and achievement. We have the opportunity during this conference to enact it and start down that path.

Factual Assessment:

While there are many opinions and personal observations about the state of our streets and roads, it is necessary to have factual information in order to make responsible decisions. The latest study figures are from 2009 and appear in the Federal Transportation Improvement Program 2013. Paso Robles has more miles of local streets and roads than any other city in the county. 151 miles compared to 144 for Atascadero and 124 for San Luis Obispo. However, maintenance funds that are available are distributed based upon population not road miles. In spite of receiving the least money per mile of road among that group we still have only an average percentage of roads in “bad” and “fair” condition. We have 20% fewer road miles in “poor” condition and we have 12% more roads in “good” and “excellent” condition than the average for this area. On a factual basis Paso Robles is doing a good job with what it has.

Still, we want to catch up and bring all of our streets and roads up to a high standard. That will require greater efforts to bring more of your Federal and State tax money back home to get the job done.

Our streets and roads move freight as well as people. They are an integral element of our economic development. That consideration must be given an appropriate weight in the calculations of when and where we spend scarce dollars for maintenance, repair and replacement.

*Through the position of City Council Member Fred qualifies for, and currently sits on, two League of California Cities’ policy committees that deal with some transportation issues; two Amtrak operated passenger rail boards; on the Board of the San Luis Obispo Council Of Governments (SLOCOG) and the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (SLORTA); member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the California Councils Of Governments organization (CALCOG); member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), where he has alreay been reelected for the 2016 to 2018 term, and Policy Chairman of NARC’s Transportation Committee. His previous positions over past decades on advisory committees for shipping, airport development and infrastructure assessment, as well as his former experience writing federal, state and local legislation that protects local control, transparency and citizen involvement in government decisions were among the reasons he was selected by his peers for his current positions. Fred’s efforts have had, and will have, a significant, positive impact on the transportation future of Paso Robles and the Central Coast region.