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What Are the Region’s Five Most Important Transportation Investments?

In January, Valley Vision reported that 93% of local residents said that transportation is of critical importance to business and job growth in the region. The poll result was part of the ongoing survey research of resident attitudes that Valley Vision conducts with the Institute of Social Research at Sac State.  Our latest opinion survey is now out on resident attitudes about what it’s like to live and work here.

Local residents overwhelmingly get the jobs-transportation link, knowing that we have to make 21st Century-minded investment decisions that better connect existing job and education centers and provide people choice in how they get around.

In a letter sent this week to the leadership of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG – the body that decides our transportation investments), Valley Vision’s Board made this case drawing from our own transportation research and work, facts and evidence from the Brookings Institute, McKinsey & Company, and regional as well as local economic development organizations and experts.

Traffic in Sacramento
Image credit: Greg West

The letter states that advanced economies are clustered in cities today, large and small.  It is in these built-up areas where there is a concentration of firms, investment capital, labor, and schools and universities, working together on technologies, cures, products, and services. Cities are where jobs are located. So it makes the most sense to direct the limited dollars we have in investments where the existing jobs and people are, not to where they aren’t.

To support inclusive job and business growth in the Capital Region, Valley Vision’s Board said unanimously that we must prioritize fixing and maintaining what we have. Next up is increasing mobility access and use by making our different transportation systems work better together across city boundaries with technology and governance improvements. Lastly, we have to make careful and strategic investments that connect existing job and education centers to improve opportunity for all, not just some.

So if there’s only so much taxpayer money to go around and we want a healthy economy that is inclusive and doesn’t leave anyone out, where should we invest?  The answer is pretty simple. Valley Vision’s Board came up with what we believe are the “Big Five” priorities.

As numbers one and two, we must find a solution that breaks the traffic gridlock on Highway 50 and Highway 80, which are the backbone that links our region’s largest job centers. We lose millions of dollars in productivity when people are stuck behind the wheel, and we make air quality far worse. Goods movement and commerce are blocked. These conditions impact everyone’s lives, directly and indirectly.

Number three is making transit work for all people – for working professionals and people who do not have any other option but public transit to get to work, school, or services. It makes little sense to have so many transit agencies in our region. Further, it is overly complicated and, in some cases near impossible, to get between cities or across our region by bus, light rail, or bike safely, conveniently, and on time. This is a government efficiency problem as much as an infrastructure investment opportunity that continues to block people from jobs and educational opportunity and slows economic activity. Great strides are being made today by RT and other agency leaders, but an inclusive economy that engages all communities, especially the disadvantaged, requires us to act with urgency.

Sacramento Regional Transit in motion
Image credit: Carlos Eliason

Number four is improving connectivity between Sacramento and the Bay Area. This will require vision and investment that goes beyond business-as-usual. Commuter train service and bus rapid transit should be actively advanced and expanded, in addition to Highway 80 capacity improvements. Being better connected to the world’s epicenter for technology is a wise, long-term economic investment strategy and provides job and business growth opportunities to existing and new firms important to all communities.

Number five is improving connectivity and public investment in and around Sacramento International Airport. This is our gateway to the world. Look at any other metro and their major airport is the hub of their transportation and job network.  Access, opportunity, and growth – core tenants of economic inclusion – are served by public and private investment here.

It’s hard to imagine any issue today getting agreement from 93% of the general public. But the importance of transportation to growing jobs and opportunity here in this region is a no-brainer.  Let’s all make sure when the SACOG Board meets next on December 20th that our elected leaders are prioritizing the sort of investments that better link existing job and education centers.

To learn more about this, we hope you take part in the public forums and input sessions for the 2020 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, now in development.  Key decisions are coming up in the months ahead and making your voice heard is vital to building a community we all want to live in, both now and in the future.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Featured image credit: Jason A. Knowles

Why Election Results and Facts Matter to the Future of This Region

Last week’s election was another defining moment for California.  While electoral votes are not fully counted, we now have a new Governor-elect with an expansion agenda intended to grow social, economic and environmental programs. In addition, new investment commitments were made to increase affordable housing and voters agreed that paying for mobility and road improvements is worth higher gas taxes at the pump.

Closer to home, the election results showed once more that the four-county Sacramento Metro Area is a region divided – a microcosm for the state and nation at large.  Two indicators:  the vote for governor, and the vote for Proposition 6, the statewide measure to repeal the gas tax.

If the election for governor was up to just Placer and El Dorado County voters, John Cox would have won by a landslide, prevailing over Lt. Gov. Newsom with 59% of the vote in both counties. Yet in Sacramento County voters supported Newsome 55% over 44% for Cox, and in Yolo County, the margin was wider: 66% for Newsom and 34% for Cox.

The vote for Proposition 6 tells a similar story. The gas tax repeal was backed strongly by Placer and El Dorado County voters, with 57% in favor.  Yet in Sacramento County voters said “no” to the repeal by a 53% to 46% margin.  Yolo County voters were more emphatic, voting 65% against repeal, with just 35% in favor.

Results like these should remind us all that California’s Capital region is diverse; its voters politically distinct in outlook; and that the political divide is not just across the US but, for us, is just a 45-minute drive in any direction.  This is important to know for political, government, business, or civic leadership agencies like Valley Vision as we conduct our daily business to make this region more prosperous, just and sustainable.

How do you govern in times of sharp disagreement?  You start with facts.  For you cannot facilitate understanding or agreement among varied interests if there’s not agreement first upon the nature of the problems that you collectively face.

In the week following Thanksgiving, Valley Vision will release the results of our latest scientific opinion poll that reveals resident attitudes about what they value (and not) about our quality of life in the Greater Sacramento area.  Working with the Institute of Social Research at Sacramento State, we asked nearly 1,000 local residents how they feel about homelessness, poverty, their chances at upward mobility, education, health care access, and more.  We also asked tough questions about whether they feel included in their community or not, and whether we should embrace the present boom in this region, or preserve the lifestyle we have come to value.

We trust that these scientifically-derived results that reflect the voices of local residents – rich and poor, urban and rural, old and young, White, Black, Latino, Asian and more – will arm the elected officials lucky enough to lead us with the knowledge and insights to bring us together to focus on the issues that residents prioritize as most important to their lives and wellbeing.

It’s part of the value proposition that Valley Vision brings to you, and to those governing.  We appreciate your support, and all our thoughts and prayers at Valley Vision are with the families confronting the Camp Fire and other catastrophes across California.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

SB-1 Is Rebuilding the Sacramento Region

From its very beginnings to the modern day, California has always been a land of opportunity that attracted those with a pioneering spirit. Yet for all of our strength, ambition and innovation, it’s incongruous that 60% of our roads require rehabilitation and that a state that ranks as the world’s 5th largest economic powerhouse can – at the same time – rank 48th in the nation when it comes to the condition of our highways.

SB-1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, helps solve this under-investment by bringing necessary resources to rebuild California’s roads and failing infrastructure. The 12-cent gas tax increase, which went into effect in November 2017, is estimated to provide $54 billion for transportation infrastructure repairs across the state over the next 10 years. In the Sacramento region alone, our cities and counties expect to receive $1.1 billion of these funds for local repairs and improvements, with further investment going to highways, bridges, and other state-operated infrastructure that we use every day.

The state’s under-investment in infrastructure in recent decades was the inevitable result of the fact that the gas tax established in 1990 was not indexed to inflation and has not increased since 1994. In the nearly 25 years since then, the purchasing power of the funds from that tax has diminished, creating a wide gap in investment. Two other factors further stress this situation: first, increases in fuel efficiency mean that vehicles consume (and pay gas tax on) less fuel per mile driven; and second, the state’s population continues to grow, increasing use and wear on our infrastructure. SB-1 effectively addresses the shortfall created by all these factors.

Key regional projects like the Highway 50 corridor enhancements between Sacramento and Placerville, the Highway 65 Interchange in Placer County, and the City of Sacramento’s Grid 3.0 project, have all been made possible because of continued SB-1 funding. The measure also allows for investment in smaller projects that would otherwise be overlooked. Among the SB-1 projects set to benefit Woodland is a much-needed redesign of West Main Street, including new bike lanes, sidewalks, and better access to transit.

The Sacramento Regional Transit District, the region’s largest and most utilized transit service provider, providing over 90% of the ridership in the region, relies on SB-1 investment to introduce new programs, expand routes and improve services that the region’s growing population needs and deserves. The $6 million designated annually to SacRT in formula funds is already expanding the popular SmaRT Ride on-demand microtransit service and boosting frequency of light rail service.

Additionally, SB-1 makes it possible to compete and win grants by filling the funding gap. Most often the state and federal policies require a dollar for dollar local investment match. Earlier this year, Sacramento Regional Transit was awarded $84 million out of $400 million needed to modernize its light rail system, including the purchase of low-floor vehicles, double tracking of light rail line between the Sunrise and Historic Folsom stations, increasing service frequency to 15 minutes between Folsom and downtown Sacramento, and planning for peak time express trains once double-tracking is complete.

Simply put, SB-1 funding is enabling local and statewide improvements, which will enhance regional connectivity and improve quality of life for those who live, work, stay and drive in the Sacramento region. Via Proposition 6 on this year’s ballot, voters will determine whether SB-1 will continue to deliver the transit and road improvements that our communities need. Investing in expanded and innovative transportation programs that reduce road congestion, improve mobility and quality of life, and serve a growing population will allow for cities and regions to compete globally.

Bill Mueller was Chief Executive of Valley Vision.