Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Transportation Leaders Polish Tax-Spending List

Transportation Leaders Polish Tax-Spending List
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD -Transportation leaders on Wednesday will decide if they have a projects list that could sell a county transportation sales tax to the public.

A half-cent transportation sales tax measure could appear on the June 6 ballot. It could raise an estimated $1.5 billion over 30 years for local roads and mass transit.

The proposed list has six major categories, such as highway improvements and commuter mass transit. Within those broad categories are such projects as improving the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange, widening Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon to four lanes and improving train service for commuters.

"That plan can be tweaked a little bit," Solano Transportation Improvement Authority chairman Jim Spering said. "I'm sure we'll get some suggestions at the meeting."

But Spering, also the Suisun City mayor, doesn't foresee dramatic changes. The list reflects what people said in public hearings and a transportation tax telephone poll, he said.

The STIA Board meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Suisun City Hall, 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Once the STIA board approves a proposed list and tax, it will send the proposals to the county Board of Supervisors and the seven city councils in the county. The Board of Supervisors and at least four cities representing a majority of the city populations must approve the plan for it to go forward.

If that happens, the STIA board will take a final vote on Feb. 22. Then the proposed tax measure would go back to the county Board of Supervisors, which has the power to place it on the ballot.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to try to head off a transportation tax/growth debate that might stop the measure from getting the two-thirds vote it needs to pass.

County Supervisors Duane Kromm and Barbara Kondylis, then-Fairfield Mayor Karin MacMillan and the Greenbelt Alliance were among those opposing a 2004 transportation sales tax measure. They said the freeway and road improvements envisioned would spur sprawl growth, which in turn would make the freeways congested all over again. An answer, they said, was to include growth control incentives in the tax measure.

The 2004 measure got almost 64 percent of the vote, short of the 67 percent it needed.

It's unlikely the planned June 6 transportation tax measure will include growth controls. Spering has said such a measure couldn't pass and has cited a phone survey. The survey of 600 voters said 72 percent of the public thinks growth controls should be addressed in a separate measure.

Sales tax supporters met twice in recent weeks with representatives from the Solano Orderly Growth Committee and Greenbelt Alliance, Kromm said. He described what he thinks can be done to protect open space and farmlands, even as roads and highways improve.

One key issue is building support for an early renewal of Solano County's orderly growth law, which expires in 2010, Kromm said. That law, approved by voters in 1984, keeps most development out of the unincorporated county and directs it to the existing cities.

He would like the orderly growth law renewed before county supervisors vote on a new General Plan, which dictates land uses in the rural county.

The other key issue is starting a regional parks district, Kromm said. Such a district could be a local version of the East Bay Regional Park District in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, running a string of parks where people could hike and do other outdoor activities.

But the two sides would need to build a level of trust if there was no direct link between the transportation sales tax measure and growth issues.

"I'm alternately optimistic and pessimistic," Kromm said.

Spering said that transportation tax supporters want to listen and see if various concerns can be addressed. He agreed that growth is an important issue and added cities are already doing such things as building to higher densities.

"I'm not sure how you give them the assurance that stuff will continue to be pursued by the cities," Spering said. "That's where it breaks down, the level of trust."

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at beberling@dailyrepublic.net.

At a glance

Who: Solano Transportation Improvement Authority

What: Proposed transportation sales tax spending list

When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Where: Suisun City Hall, 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Info: 424-6075

Proposed county transportation sales tax spending list

- 40 percent to highway improvements. Includes improving the Interstates 80 and 680 interchange and widening Highway 12 in Jameson Canyon.

- 20 percent to local street maintenance.

- 12 percent to commuter mass transit. Includes new commuter rail service and expanding Vallejo ferry service.

- 10 percent to safety projects.

- 10 percent to the county and its seven cities for their own transportation projects

- 7 percent to senior and disabled transit.

- 1 percent to administration.

The tax would raise an estimated $1.5 billion over 30 years.

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