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Chamber Executive Article Archive

Ballot Initiatives Boost Transportation Funding
Metro Chambers Build Movement for Mobility

By Will Burns

Last November, voters across the country supported more than $200 billion in new funding for critical transportation and transit projects. Faced with funding challenges and growing lists of infrastructure priorities, many metro regions are going to voters to seek local and regional funding solutions. Leading up to the 2016 election, chambers of commerce helped mobilize support for the critical transportation and transit improvements. Here are a few highlights.

Metro Atlanta Chamber
Two infrastructure ballot measures were approved by voters in Atlanta. The first, which was approved by 72 percent of voters, increased the sales tax by a half-cent, raising $2.5 billion over 40 years to fund Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) expansion and improvements. Voters also approved a four-tenths of a penny sales tax increase for five years to raise $300 million to fund trail, street, sidewalk, and bike share improvements. This measure passed with 68 percent of the vote. The Metro Atlanta Chamber continued its strong advocacy for infrastructure investment and argued that the multimodal approach is essential to attracting and retaining young talent, who want to live where they work and are less interested in owning cars and having long commutes.

 

Austin Chamber of Commerce (Texas)
Voters in the city of Austin approved at $720 million mobility bond, the largest single investment in local transportation infrastructure in the city’s history. Projects will be funded in three categories: improving congestion in nine of the city’s most congested corridors; regional improvements to address critical pain points; and improvements to local sidewalks, bikeways, urban trails and safe routes to schools. The bond will be paid by a property tax rate increase of 2.25 cents per $100 of value. The Austin Chamber supported the mobility bond, calling it a great first step to managing the city’s growth and preserving quality of life. Traffic congestion is a major challenge for the city and the chamber said passage of the bond will address congestion, increase safety and provide more mobility choices. The measure was approved by 59 percent of voters.

 

Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce (S.C.)
Voters in Charleston County, S.C. approved a half-cent sales tax increase, which will raise $2.1 billion over 25 years to fund infrastructure, mass transit and greenspace. The Charleston Metro Chamber supported the referendum and a related proposal to the state transportation infrastructure bank. Together, the proposals will provide funding for completion of crucial infrastructure projects, including the I-526 extension and the construction of the needed overpasses to allow the opening of the Leatherman Terminal. It will also provide funding for additional chamber infrastructure priorities including Highway 41 widening, an overpass at Highway 17 and Main Road, airport area infrastructure improvements, bus rapid transit and Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. The referendum passed 51 percent to 49 percent.

 

Indy Chamber
Indianapolis and Marion County voters supported a 0.25 percent income tax increase to fund a regional rapid transit network of expanded bus service and bus rapid transit lines. Nearly 60 percent of voters approved the referendum, sending it to the City-County Council of Indianapolis-Marion County. The Indy Chamber endorsed the Marion County Transit Plan as a realistic blueprint for expanded transit service. The $56 million per year in new revenue will allow for investment in a bigger fleet and extended schedules, with 23 percent more buses and a 70 percent increase in service hours. The chamber led proponents of the ballot question and continues to advocate for passage of the full plan by the City-County Council.

 

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Los Angeles County voters approved large expansion of rail and bus transit, highway improvements and bike and pedestrian projects, funded by a new half-cent sales tax increase and the indefinite extension of an existing half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation. The measure was approved by 71 percent of voters and is projected to raise $100 billion over the next 40 years. The final plan will devote more than 50 percent of the funds to new transportation projects and send 16 percent back to municipalities for investment in local streets, roads and sidewalks. The Los Angeles Area Chamber called the proposal a balanced and equitable approach to improving and maintaining the transportation system.

 

Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce (N.C.)
Wake County, N.C. voters approved a one-half cent local sales and use tax referendum to fund the Wake County Transit Plan. The plan will generate $1 billion over 10 years to provide improved connections within Wake County and across the region through expanded bus service and commuter rail from Garner to Durham. The Greater Raleigh Chamber supported the referendum because it will help the region prepare for the future and build a modern public transportation system mobility. The measure was approved by 52 percent of voters.

 

San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
A regional $3.5 billion General Obligation Bond measure, proposition RR, was approved by voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The measure increases property taxes to fund Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) infrastructure upgrades like train control systems, station congestion relief and critical safety improvements. The San Francisco Chamber supported the measure because the upgrades are desperately needed to handle the increased passenger volumes. During the last decade, daily passenger volumes have grown from less than 300,000 riders to more than 440,000, and ongoing growth is expected to reach 600,000 by 2040. The measure passed 70.5 percent to 29.5 percent.

 

Greater Spokane Incorporated (Wash.)
Spokane County voters approved a ballot measure to increase the county sales tax by two-tenths of a percent to fund maintenance, improvement and expansion of Spokane Transit Authority (STA) services. The sales tax increase will phase in over two years and it will sunset in 2028. The proposal will raise approximately $200 million over eleven years, and the funding will be leveraged to take advantage of state and federal grants. Greater Spokane Incorporated supported the referendum, arguing that public transportation is vital to economic development throughout the region and STA’s plan will increase customer service by offering more frequent trips and extended operating hours to serve a wider audience. The measure received 55 percent of the vote.

 

Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber (Wash.)
Voters in the state of Washington approved a major new mass transit initiative to connect the communities in the Puget Sound region with 116 miles of Sound Transit light rail, commuter rail, new bus rapid transit and express buses. The proposition, which was approved by 54 percent of voters, will fund system expansion through a 0.5 percent sales tax increase, a 0.8 percent vehicle excise tax and a property tax increase of $0.25 per $1,000 of assessed value. It will reportedly raise more than $27 billion over 25 years ($54 billion when you factor in federal grants and matching funds). The Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber supported the initiative. By law the $5 billion in new taxes collected in Pierce County must be spent on projects benefiting the county, including new light rail connection between Tacoma and Sea-Tac Airport, extending Sounder Rail to Dupont, extending Tacoma Link to West Tacoma and increasing frequency and reliability of express bus service.

 

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Metro Chambers Build Movement for Mobility
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