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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