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Extension of Transit Tax Gets Support

San Bernardino County transportation panel endorses ballot measure that would add 30 years to half-cent sales tax. Supervisors vote next.

June 03, 2004|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

To ease the traffic that will accompany the region's expected population boom, a San Bernardino County transportation panel Wednesday endorsed a ballot measure that would generate more than $6 billion in sales taxes for transportation improvements.

The San Bernardino Associated Governments voted unanimously to back a measure for the November ballot that would extend for 30 years a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transportation projects. The proposition, Measure I, needs the support of two-thirds of the voters to be approved.

Municipal leaders said the tax was crucial because of a dramatic population spurt forecast over the next 20 years and because state lawmakers have repeatedly diverted state transportation dollars to solve California's ongoing budget problems.

"Local government is left to fend for itself," said Bill Alexander, president of the transportation agency and mayor of Rancho Cucamonga.

If adopted, the half-cent sales tax would pay for a long list of transportation projects, with more than 80% of the money going to freeway widening, interchange expansion and street improvement. In contrast, less than 25% of the funds raised by two half-cent sales tax measures in Los Angeles County go to freeway and street improvements. Most of Los Angeles County's transportation dollars go toward improving bus and rail line services, according to transportation officials.

The most expensive project is a $610-million plan to widen the San Bernardino Freeway from Interstate 15 to the Riverside County line, adding a carpool lane in each direction. The new lanes would connect to existing carpool lanes west of Interstate 15.

The sales tax measure also would fund a $170-million plan to rebuild the interchange between Interstates 15 and 215, adding extra lanes and connection ramps.

Smaller amounts would be distributed to each city for local transit projects and to expand commuter rail lines and bus service throughout the county.

The spending plan "reflects the reality of how our people go to work," said Norman King, executive director of the San Bernardino Associated Governments. He said the spending plan was created over two years with the support of all 25 cities in San Bernardino County, as well as the state Department of Transportation.

Relatively low housing prices have made the Inland Empire the fastest-growing region in the state. Riverside and San Bernardino counties combined are expected to attract more than 2 million new residents by 2020.

King and other county leaders say they feared the growth could create the dawn-to-dusk gridlock that is common in Los Angeles County.

"We don't have quite the [traffic] impact that L.A. has, but it's moving out here," Alexander said.

Once the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors votes -- as expected later this month -- to place the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot, a committee of local business owners, including freeway construction companies and engineering firms, will head the campaign to gather support for the measure.

The head of the campaign committee, Larry Sharp, president of Arrowhead Credit Union, said voters would be warned that gridlock would get worse unless action is taken.

"If we don't get out and pass Measure I, we are going to continue to have problems," he said.

San Bernardino County's half-cent sales tax was adopted by voters in 1989 and is scheduled to expire in 2010. Measure I would extend the tax to 2040, generating $6 billion that state and federal officials cannot borrow or suspend.

Because of previous cutbacks in state and federal transportation funding, San Bernardino County officials said they were not expecting substantial increases in transportation funds from the state or federal government.

The transportation panel hopes to get $1.1 billion in state and federal matching funds over the 30-year period. An additional $1.1 billion is expected to come from fees on new development.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Transportation funds

The San Bernardino Associated Governments has approved extending a half-cent sales tax for 30 more years to help fund several transportation projects. The measure, which may be placed on the November ballot, could raise about $6 billion.

How Measure I funds would be distributed*

*--* Category Amount Major and local street repairs and improvements $2.59 billion Freeway widening, interchange and highway projects $2.29 billion Senior and disabled transit $425 million Metrolink rail $362 million Express bus service $180 million Traffic management systems $90 million Total $5.94 billion

*--*

*Minus $180 million for administration and Board of Equalization collection charge

Source: San Bernardino Associated Governments

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