By now reality is setting in: We need to dramatically increase our investment in transportation infrastructure just to maintain the status quo. But it looks like Congress isn’t willing to do it, at least in the near future.
One might think that we’re sitting pretty in Los Angeles County thanks to Measure R — we’ve definitely got it better than some other regions — but federal largess also plays a big role in getting projects built here. Without it, L.A. and other cities throughout the state are going to have to find new sources of funding to help keep transit running and make down payments on future transit projects.
That’s the issue that a team of researchers from UCLA and Berkeley’s respective environmental law programs tackled in their report, “All Aboard: How California Can Increase Investments in Public Transit” [PDF].
Metro riders will be happy to know that under “short- and long-term solutions,” the number one recommendation is supporting America Fast Forward. The next three are:
- Explore measures to reduce the voter approval threshold for transit-related taxes, assessments, and bonds from two-thirds to 55 percent;
- Compile and promote data on the economic benefits of public transit to the public and to elected official in order to increase political support for transit financing; and
- Encourage supportive land use policies in transit station areas to facilitate greater utilization of existing and planned transit resources.
The whole document is a good rundown of the challenges of funding public transit projects in California and why doing so is definitely worth it — both to the individual commuter and to society at large. To name a few: transit reduces greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollutants; it provides an alternative to being stuck in traffic; it’s usually less expensive than driving; and it can encourage smarter and more sustainable land use.
One of the paper’s more intriguing recommendations is that the state should encourage regions to adopt congestion pricing programs:
Local transit officials should evaluate and explore the impact of congestion pricing as a means to fund transit improvements. Congestion pricing involves placing tolls, or raising existing tolls, on roadways during times of peak travel demand. The price signal can reduce traffic congestion, encourage carpooling or transit usage, and improve air quality. The added revenue could then fund transit to provide drivers with a convenient and affordable alternative to driving.
It’s intriguing because the implication is that, if you, Angeleno driver, really want free and clear roads all the time and more transit, you’re going to have to pay extra for that scarce road space. There’s just too much demand for travel that no amount of road-building can satisfy. And think of all the worthy transit projects that just missed the Measure R cut (looking at you, rail through West Hollywood).
One recent poll suggested that people are more willing to pay extra for a better commute than pundits and politicians think. The caveat seems to be that voters want to know that there will be direct and immediate benefits.
The UCLA and Berkeley study is hardly the first study to support congestion pricing as a solution. In fact, Orange County is studying adding high-occupancy toll lanes — a partial form of congestion pricing — to the 405 freeway in the OC. In May, the Metro Board approved a motion to study whether HOT lanes might be possible on the 405 and 605 freeways in L.A. County. And work is underway on the ExpressLanes project for parts of the 10 and 110 freeways.
Am I crazy to think that Angelenos will support paying congestion fees to use the roads in my lifetime? Let me know in the comments.