Viewpoints

California is on the highway to danger. It’s time to fix our roads.

View from the air: The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge demolition on Highway 1 in Big Sur

Take a look at the debris left behind after much of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur was demolished and plummeted to the canyon below on Saturday, March 18, 2017. The bridge cracked and shifted during recent rains, and officials declared the brid
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Take a look at the debris left behind after much of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur was demolished and plummeted to the canyon below on Saturday, March 18, 2017. The bridge cracked and shifted during recent rains, and officials declared the brid

The recent storms, while a welcome relief from California’s drought, have exposed critical gaps in our infrastructure.

It’s not just potholes — roads are actually collapsing throughout our state. The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur crumbled, cutting off travel between Monterey and the Central Coast. Moreover, our clogged and crumbling roads are stealing hours away from commuting families every day.

Sacramento has been ignoring this problem for quite some time. Over the past decade, annual transportation funding in the state budget has decreased by 14 percent, despite significant growth in state budget revenues. The time is right for a major investment in transportation infrastructure and a major re-evaluation of how we fund roads going forward.

We can make the necessary investments in our transportation infrastructure without hammering working families with hefty tax and fee increases. It is simply a matter of prioritizing and protecting transportation funds. Californians already pay some of the highest gas taxes and vehicle-license fees in America. But much of that revenue is not spent on roads. Instead, Sacramento engages in clever gimmicks to divert money away from roads and toward other uses. This has to end.

In keeping with these core principles, I am proud to co-author the Traffic Relief and Road Improvement Act, or TRRIP, which provides $7.8 billion for the state’s transportation needs without raising taxes or fees. It adds more funding for roads and highways than any other proposal. The concept behind it is simple: Taxes paid by transportation users should be permanently dedicated to our state’s transportation system.

TRIPP will end the state’s practice of raiding road funds for other pet projects. It will repay the money that was diverted from transportation projects. TRIPP also includes reforms to make transportation spending more efficient, and it eliminates bureaucratic red tape that holds up road improvements. Because the average Californian spends three full days each year in traffic, TRIPP devotes 30 percent of its funds to increasing road capacity and relieving gridlock, something all other plans on the table ignore completely.

To further accountability, TRIPP creates a transportation inspector general, empowered to rid Caltrans of waste and inefficiency, as well as mandatory audits for all major projects.

Jordan Cunningham’s proposed Traffic Relief and Road Improvement Act would provide $7.8 billion for the state’s transportation needs without raising taxes or fees.

Other transportation reform plans circulating in Sacramento rely on hefty tax and fee increases on working families, with little to no structural change. One of them would increase the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon, with increases every year thereafter. But this, too, is a gimmick. Without dedicating this revenue to infrastructure, taxpayers are being asked to pay more at the pump without any protection.

Finally, regarding local control: In other policy areas, such as education, the governor has shown leadership in empowering local governments to decide how funding should be spent. Transportation dollars could be his third wave of “subsidiarity” — achieving greater efficiency and local cooperation as a result. I have seen absolutely no evidence that consolidating transportation funding and decision-making at the state level works for the people. We know best locally what projects should be a priority.

In sum, we are past the time for patching potholes and quick fixes. It is time to think big and put transportation infrastructure on sound footing for a generation. Through dedicated funding and real accountability reforms, we can make that a reality.

State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton, represents all of San Luis Obispo County and portions of Santa Barbara County, including Guadalupe, Lompoc and Santa Maria.

Watch as crews bring down most of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur on Saturday, March 18, 2017. The bridge cracked and shifted during recent winter storms and could not be repaired. This video was taken by Stan Russell, executive director of Big

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