On the November election ballot, Sacramento County voters will be asked to approve Measure B – a county-wide, half-cent sales tax increase that would raise $3,614,000,000 over 30 years for transportation projects. Save the American River Association’s Board of Directors urges county residents to vote NO!
Measure B would help fund a new bridge for automobiles, bicycles, light rail and pedestrians starting on Sequoia Pacific Blvd. in Sacramento City’s River District, crossing the American River, cutting through Discovery Park, and finally joining Truxel Road.
The construction would destroy five acres of prime riparian habitat in the American River Parkway. It would cut through the heart of the greatest old growth riparian forest anywhere near Sacramento.
Because this type of forest is green all summer when much of our other native vegetation is golden and resting, it’s a magnet for wildlife and far more significant for providing them prime habitat. Colorful song birds that winter in tropical rain forests return each summer to this Parkway forest because it is just large enough to provide the security and peace they need to nest successfully. Funding from Measure B would destroy these secure and quiet nesting places. And just as important, this new bridge would destroy one of the rare places in our hot and dry region where residents and visitors alike can escape the pressures of an urban environment, finding cool, restful hiking and biking experiences. The Parkway preserves some of the last remaining five percent of this distinct and critical habitat in California.
There is a much better option for improving transportation for autos, light rail, bicyclists, and pedestrians in the immediate area. A little more than a mile upstream, four bridges cross the Parkway on State Route-160. Caltrans’ studies found that one of the bridges needs to be replaced and the other three require major rehabilitation.
Measure B promises to prioritize the repair and replacement of aging bridges to ensure the safety and reliability of major pieces of infrastructure. What it really does is help fund a $70 million-to-$100 million in today’s dollars new auto bridge over the American River through Discovery Park that will include bicycles and pedestrians and FUTURE light rail? FUTURE light rail? Huh? Originally, the bridge at this location was justified as a light rail/pedestrian/walking bridge; an alternative to air pollution and traffic congestion. It is even identified as such in the American River Parkway Plan 2008. Somewhere along the way automobile lanes appeared as part of the project, and now, if you read Measure B, the new “American River bridge to South Natomas” is described as a bridge with “autos and bike lanes and FUTURE light rail (the author’s emphasis), according to Sacramento County Measure B Transportation Sales Tax Expenditure Plan, (2017-2047), Page 6). Somebody had better decide exactly what this bridge is supposed to accomplish before we spend between $70 million and $100 million dollars to deprive us all of the heart and soul of Sacramento, the American River Parkway.
Besides Caltrans’ findings that the SR-160 bridges are in need of serious rehabilitation and replacement, the Sacramento City- sponsored 2012-13 American River Crossings Alternative Study concluded that there would be other significant benefits to investing in the SR-160 bridges.
- There would be improved and safer access for all modes of transportation – autos, light rail, bicycles and pedestrians.
- Northgate Boulevard would be elevated, connecting it to SR-160 with a full access at grade intersection and providing full access to both directions on SR-160. Today, access is limited to one eastbound off-ramp from SR-160 to Northgate Blvd. and westbound on-ramp from Northgate Blvd./Del Paso Blvd. to SR-160. These improvements better connect the communities of Natomas, North Sacramento and the Central City.
- The long-time problem of how to complete the Two Rivers Trail running underneath the SR-160 would be solved.
- The flooding problem causing Northgate Blvd. to close when the creeks and/or the American River overflow would be eliminated. The City has delayed solving this problem for 20+ years exposing the citizens of Sacramento to mobility and economic hardships. An all-weather Northgate Boulevard also provides more flexibility in moving people between flood basins, possibly saving lives.
- A troubled area of the American River Parkway would be cleaned up and Downtown Sacramento would get a new gateway entrance showcasing its “crown jewel.”
- If light rail to the airport is the desired end goal of this “American River bridge to South Natomas,” this project could accomplish a connection with all travel modes to Truxel Road via Garden Highway. It is a feasible alternative to destroying irreplaceable recreation and nature areas of the American River Parkway. To date, no replacement property of equal value and usefulness has been identified as required by law.
- This project would accomplish the completion of transportation fixes (remember Measure B’s promise to Fix It First?) developed during the 2012-2013 American River Crossings Alternative Study stakeholder committee process deemed worthy of implementation.
Unfortunately Measure B, the 30-year, $3.6 billion dollar sales tax, was put together without the benefit of any stakeholder process in the tradition of the voter-approved Measure A in 2004, the 30-year extension of a 20-year transportation sales tax first passed by citizens in 1988.
For Measure B, elected officials from the County of Sacramento, City of Sacramento, Folsom, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights, Galt and Isleton put together their wish lists of priorities with some polling that indicated the public has very little stomach for grand and expansive road and transit projects, but prefer instead an increased sales tax that invests in our existing transportation infrastructure. In other words, take care of what we have.
This polling led to the Measure B Fix It First sales pitch and a supposed investment priority for years 1-5 of the 30 years in the maintenance and operations of existing transportation assets such as streets, roads, bridges, and improvements to enhance safety and access for pedestrians, bicycles and transit users. This commitment to Fix It First maintenance and rehabilitation might give voters confidence that their taxes will be spent on THEIR priorities if the elected officials did not immediately write an escape clause to the Fix It First requirement by stating: “Alternatively, the City Council or the Board of Supervisors, by a 2/3 vote, may authorize the reduction in the 75% Fix It First commitment to maintenance and rehabilitation for the purpose of directing a higher share of the jurisdiction’s allocation to specified high-priority roadway or transit capital projects.” (Sacramento County Measure B Transportation Sales Tax Expenditure Plan, (2017-2047), Page 3), and “Alternatively, the SRTD Board of Directors (Sacramento Regional Transit District), by a 80% vote, may authorize a reduction in the 75% Fix It First commitment to vehicle replacement, maintenance, operations and security for the purpose of directing a higher share of the funds from this program to specified high priority transit capital projects.” (Sacramento County Measure B Transportation Sales Tax Expenditure Plan, (2017-2047), Page 4).
Is this indicative of a real commitment to the public regarding their desire to take care of what we have? What, if any, public process will happen when these elected officials begin making decisions about transportation projects that have a higher priority, in their minds, than maintaining and operating the existing systems? Voters are left to wonder whether billions of dollars in taxes will actually result in solutions to our mobility woes.
Towards that point, 30 years is an excessive amount of time for this half-cent sales tax increase. By reducing it to 10-15 years, the success of the Fix It First projects, and this includes employing the latest Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technology, can be measured and a more realistic picture will have emerged as to what mobility looks and feels like in the future. We all realize it’s a rapidly evolving landscape.
Over and over again, locally elected officials have scorned SARA’s and other transportation advocates concerns regarding Measure B as unfounded and unrealistic. Repeatedly, we were told: “Measure B isn’t perfect, but it is better than doing nothing.” Really? That’s a reason for taxpayers to invest billions of dollars in our future for something that is little more than nothing?
I wonder if we would have the American River Parkway today, the reason why many people live in Sacramento, if those early citizens who worked so hard to make the Parkway a reality, believed it was only just better than nothing instead of a legacy, a real gift to generations of Sacramento’s residents? It’s up to us whether we will continue to protect and preserve this treasure. Will we let the elected officials scare us into voting for Measure B with visions of doomsday scenarios?
Remember that Measure A, the one-half cent sales tax extension voters approved in 2004 does not expire until 2039. Measure A money can and should help us continue to upgrade our transportation infrastructure until we can pass a sales tax increase that will be a lot more than a little more than nothing. How about a transportation sales tax that rivals the American River Parkway in its vision and ultimately creates a transportation system that generations will come to regard as another reason why they live in Sacramento?
More information on Measure B is posted on the Sacramento Transportation Authority website: http.//www.sacta.org./